Tony Bunyan – Guardian May 28, 2009
Every five years the EU adopts a five-year plan for justice and home affairs affecting many areas of EU citizens' civil liberties – policing, immigration and asylum, criminal law, databases and data protection. The Tampere programme
(2000-2004) was followed by the Hague programme
[pdf] (2005-2009), which included the commitment to bring in biometric passports and ID cards, and a new programme will be adopted in Stockholm in December.
The process of deciding the content of these five-year plans is long and complicated and rarely makes it into the mainstream news until they have been adopted – when, of course, it is too late for the public to influence its content or direction. The Tampere programme was drawn up and negotiated by officials of the council of the European Union and the European commission, without any consultation with national or European parliaments, let alone civil society, and adopted in closed sessions
[pdf] by the European council (EU prime ministers). This time we know a little more. In January 2008 the council set up a future group
[pdf], who produced a report on home affairs last summer.
Its proposals are examined in a special Statewatch report: The shape of things to come
[pdf]. These include the new "principle of convergence", described as "the pooling of sovereignty" by enforcing standard training, equipment and information technology across all the law enforcement agencies (police, immigration and customs) and backed by legal harmonisation to remove "obstacles" (such as the need for judicial authorisation and data protection) to gathering, accessing and transferring data and intelligence. This will allow unregulated automated access to data and intelligence by hundreds of national state agencies across Europe, bringing into practical effect the "principle of availability" (all data and intelligence held has to made available to all the other state agencies in the EU) in the Hague programme.
Second, to harness the digital tsunami
[pdf]: "Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations", leading to behaviour being predicted and assessed by "machines" (their term) which will issue orders to officers on the spot. The proposal presages the mass gathering of personal data on travel, bank details, mobile phone locations, health records, internet usage, criminal records however minor, fingerprints and digital pictures that can be data-mined and applied to different scenario – boarding a plane, behaviour on the Tube or taking part in a protest.
Third, it is proposed that by 2014 the EU needs to create a "Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation with the USA in the field of freedom, security and justice". This would go far beyond current co-operation and mean that policies affecting the liberties and rights of everyone in Europe would not be determined in London or Brussels but in secret EU-US meetings.
The formal process will start when the commission adopts proposals in June. The European parliament will be consulted when it re-assembles in September. The commission's draft can be re-written at will by the European council and adopted in closed session. This will set in stone the measures to be put forward by the commission and determine the agenda for the new European parliament.
Statewatch has set up an observatory
tracking all the documents as they appear so that you can find out what is going on and the European civil liberties network
[pdf] is seeking to alert civil society to the dangers.
We can either leave these decisions to our leaders (and an elite group of civil servants) or we can insist on an open and meaningful debate now before it is too late. The idea that the surveillance society and database state is just a UK issue is naive: it is a European one in which our government plays a very active role.
Last updated 01/06/2009