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EU: Secret Spy Network Formed to Track Protestors

by Stephen CastleThe Independent (UK)
August 20th, 2001

BRUSSELS -- European leaders have ordered police and intelligence agencies to co-ordinate their efforts to identify and track the anti-capitalist demonstrators whose violent protests at recent international summits culminated in the shooting dead by police of a young protester at the Genoa G8 meeting last month.

The new measures clear the way for protesters travelling between European Union countries to be subjected to an unprecedented degree of surveillance.

Confidential details of decisions taken by Europe's interior ministers at talks last month show that the authorities will use a web of police and judicial links to keep tabs on the activities and whereabouts of protesters. Europol, the EU police intelligence-sharing agency based in The Hague that was set up to trap organised criminals and drug traffickers, is likely to be given a key role.

The plan has alarmed civil rights campaigners, who argue that personal information on people who have done no more than take part in a legal demonstration may be entered into a database and exchanged.

Calls for a new Europe-wide police force to tackle the threat from hardline anti-capitalists were led after the Genoa summit by Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schily. Germany has long pushed for the creation of a Europe-wide crime-fighting agency modelled on the FBI.

Germany's EU partners rejected Mr Schily's call, judging that a new force to combat political protest movements was too controversial, but ministers agreed to extend the measures that can be taken under existing powers. Central to the new push is the secretive Article 36 committee (formerly known as the K4 committee) and the Schengen Information System, both of which allow for extensive contact and data sharing between police forces.

Under the new arrangements, European governments and police chiefs will:

  • Set up permanent contact points in every EU country to collect, analyse and exchange information on protesters;
  • Create a pool of liaison officers before each summit staffed by police from countries from which "risk groups" originate;
  • Use "police or intelligence officers" to identify "persons or groups likely to pose a threat to public order and security";
  • Set up a task force of police chiefs to organise "targeted training" on violent protests.

The new measures will rely on two main ways of exchanging police information. The Schengen Information System, which provides basic information, and a supporting network called Sirene Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry. This network (of which Britain is a member) allows pictures, fingerprints and other information to be sent to police or immigration officials once a suspect enters their territory. Each country already has a Sirene office with established links to EU and Nordic law enforcement agencies.

Civil liberties campaigners are dismayed by the plan. Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch magazine, said: "This will give the green light to Special Branch and MI5 to put under surveillance people whose activities are entirely democratic."

Nicholas Busch, co-ordinator of the Fortress Europe network on civil liberties issues, added: "People who have done nothing against the law ought to be able to feel sure they are not under surveillance ... By criminalising whole political and social scenes you fuel confrontation and conflict."

Thomas Mathieson, professor of sociology of law at the University of Oslo, said police could have access to "very private information" about people's religion, sex lives and politics. "It is a very dangerous situation from the civil liberties point of view," he said.





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