Europe Criticizes Bush; Follows His Lead in "War on Terror"

Outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has been unpopular in Europe, but his policies in fighting the 'war on terror' have found many takers.

Daniel Finke and Thomas Koenig, professors of politics at the University of Mannheim, 500 km south of Berlin, have found numerous similarities between U.S. "homeland security" and European laws since 2001.

"We do not want to attack all EU homeland security policies, but we have found there is a law-making trend across Europe that reduces civil liberties in exchange for more collective security," Koenig told IPS.

Finke and Koenig studied Austria, Britain, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

The new European laws reducing civil rights range from introducing biometric control devices such as computerised passports and the digital registration of fingerprints to surveillance and storage of all telephone and Internet traffic and transaction data, including bank operations.

Finke and Koenig say the European trend of trading off civil freedoms against homeland security goes against the rights of democratic institutions such as parliaments. "Parliaments are forced to ratify all government decisions in this matter without questioning, and without the right to discuss and eventually reject elements of the laws," Koenig said.

This means, he added, that governments have been turning off the democratic system of check and balances. "On the question of homeland security, we are facing the dismantling of traditional democratic controls."

In a new book Der Terrorist als Gesetzgeber -- Wie man mit Angst Politik Macht (The Lawmaker as Terrorist, or How Politics Foments Fear), Heribert Prantl, a former district attorney in Munich, and now leading editorial commentator at the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, says governments all over the industrialised world have "sacrificed civil rights at the altar of homeland security and the so-called war against terror.

"Inspired by the notion of preventing terror, which pervades U.S. foreign policy under George W. Bush, the new anti-terror laws consider every one of us a potential terrorist," Prantl told IPS. "Until 2001, it was the other way around: if you did not give a reason to be a suspect, you were left in peace. This was called the rule of law. Now laws are taking away our freedoms."

The French watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said in a report last month that EU countries have been curtailing the rights of journalists to report freely on political issues. The report says the U.S. is now behind African countries such as Mali, Ghana and Namibia in the world ranking of countries on respecting freedom of information.

Some European countries have been systematically harassing journalists, it says. "France has for the past two years held the European record for police and court interventions linked to the confidentiality of journalists' sources, with five searches, two preliminary indictments and four summonses."

The report condemned particularly the arrest of investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquié by the state intelligence agency Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST), and of Bruno Thomas, a reporter for the motoring weekly Auto Plus.

Dasquié was detained by the DST in December 2007 after he published an intelligence report on Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in July in the Le Monde daily. Dasquié was released after two days of questioning at the DST headquarters in Paris.

Thomas was detained in July 2007 and is still under judicial investigation after he published a report on a new model by French automobile maker Renault that is not yet in the market. Auto Plus editor-in-chief Laurent Chiapello said the matter was "blown out of proportion" and that the journalist was "simply doing his job, that is finding new information to better inform the reader."

These arrests were "accompanied by raids on their homes and offices…(showing) that the confidentiality of sources is not always adequately protected in the 'land of human rights'," the RSF report adds. It says similar practices affecting the confidentiality of sources have been recently introduced in other European countries, such as Spain, Italy, and Germany.

The French government moves were followed by an announcement in May that a new law to protect the confidentiality of sources and judicial protection of journalists will be passed early next year.

In Germany, 17 journalists working for leading newspapers in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg were prosecuted last year for "involvement in disclosing state secrets." The lawsuits were filed in August 2007 after the leaking of confidential material from a parliamentary commission investigating the role of the state secret services in the 'war on terror'.

The German national journalists association Deutscher Journalisten Verband says 180 lawsuits alleging 'complicity in betraying state secrets' have been brought against reporters since 1986. By the end of 2007, all the investigations were dropped.

Freedom of Internet activists are meanwhile opposing the growing government control of online communication. They particularly criticise EU directive 2006/24/EC passed in March 2006 that provides for "the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks."

The EU directive compels all telecommunications providers in the EU to retain for a period of between six months and two years all data necessary "to trace and identify the source of a communication...the destination of a communication, the communication device (and)...the location of mobile communication equipment."

"The EU telecommunications data retention directive allows for the whole European population to be observed, without any initial suspicion," says Ralf Bendrath, civil rights and Internet activist in Germany. "Who I call or write to, whether I use the Internet or not, my location, all this data is nobody's business, least of all the government's."

Bendrath told IPS that the recent cases of citizens' fiscal, bank and other personal data lost in Britain, and the illegal commercialisation of the data bank of the German telecommunication provider Deutsche Telekom "show how easily the data retention can lead to criminal abuses."

Several electronic storage devices containing fiscal and other data of several million citizens have been lost or stolen in Britain since 2006. In one case, the addresses, birth dates, national insurance numbers and bank account details of every child benefit claimant in Britain went missing when two compact discs were sent by unregistered post in October 2007.

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom is involved in several cases of misuse of electronic data banks. In one case, in 2006, the personal data of 17 million clients of the company's cellular phone service was stolen and offered to, among other companies, a sex shop and porno dealer. The case was revealed by German media only in October 2008. Deutsche Telekom CEO René Obermann called this "an infuriating episode", and announced the dismissal of four middle-ranking executives.

In a similar case, personal data of some 30 million Deutsche Telekom clients was made available on the Internet. In yet another case, during 2005 and 2006 the company spied on more than 60 members of its own union and on journalists, trying to establish information leaks within the company.

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