Post 9/11, has Europe paid too high a price for security? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.09.2009
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Post 9/11, has Europe paid too high a price for security?

In the years following 9/11, the EU introduced a series of new security measures aimed at preventing terrorist attacks. But many experts say civil liberties have been the price to pay for added safety.

Monitoring system in a German train station

Surveillance and data monitoring have increased in the EU since 9/11

The 9/11 attacks in the United States had links to Europe: they were to a large extent planned by a terror cell in Hamburg. A few years after the attacks, the continent itself suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists - with terrorist bombings in Madrid and London. At the time of the bombings, Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, pointed out how vulnerable Europe had proved to be, and appealed for a greater exchange of information between police and security forces.

"We need as much cross-border cooperation as possible to prevent further attacks," Fischer said. "We cannot let terrorism bring us to our knees."

Police officers stand on guard outside Scotland Yard

Police in London frequently find themselves on high alert

Internal security policy within the EU is first and foremost a matter for individual member states. But in the face of international terrorism, that was the problem. As a consequence, EU governments appointed the Dutchman Gijs de Vries as the European Anti-Terror Coordinator in 2004.

"Our public prosecutors exchange information through Eurojust, so that they can work better together across borders," he said. "We put laws in place against the financing of terrorism for example. Terrorists need money, we must make sure they don't get it. And again, that takes international cooperation."

Most Europeans quickly came to terms with increased security checks at airports. Yet resentment and resistance grew when American authorities were granted access to data on European air passengers. The EU's justice commissioner at the time was Franco Frattini.

"We accept disclosure of data to other agencies provided that they have comparable standards of data protection," Frattini said, in justification of the move.

Innocent civilians affected

Passengers check in at a British Airway's desk at Heathrow Airport in London

In 2006, the EU's highest court ruled that an EU-US passenger data deal was illegal

As a result of tightened security laws, every bank customer, every mobile phone and Internet user now has to assume that their details and data will be intercepted and stored by the authorities. Civil rights campaigners are particularly critical of a terror suspect list published by the EU. Last year, Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty revealed how innocent citizens could be affected.

"They basically can't prevent themselves appearing on the list," Marty said. "They don't know the exact accusation being levelled at them and they have no way of removing themselves from the list."

Following his investigations, Marty claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency maintained secret detention facilities in several European countries, an accusation the CIA denies. But if there's one word synonymous with the perversion of security planning in European eyes, then it's "Guantanamo." In 2006, Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, heavily criticized the behavior of the Bush administration.

"After the terror attacks of September 2001, the fear was so great, that the Americans were prepared to risk demolishing our set of values," Brok said. "I believe it must be made clear that we can only succeed in fighting terrorism if we do not endanger our own values."

However, the criticism aimed at George Bush's America then is now just as valid in the EU today, according to some civil liberty campaigners: that in the name of security, Europe has eroded the civil rights that ought to be its hallmark.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach (rt/dc)
Editor: Rob Turner

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