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[] EU-Ministerrat / Data Retention,
Britain urges EU to tighten security

Blunkett calls for common rules on data retention

Ian Black in Brussels
Friday March 19, 2004
The Guardian <>

Britain is pressing the EU to adopt stringent anti-terrorist measures, 
including common rules for retaining mobile phone and internet data to 
help track networks and forestall attacks.

David Blunkett, the home secretary, will tell the EU's interior and 
justice ministers in Brussels today that they must improve their 
intelligence-gathering capability and get the "right balance" between 
civil liberties and security.

With concern rising across the continent in the wake of last week's 
devastating al-Qaida train bombings in Madrid, the European commission 
also issued proposals for more effective action. Britain's call for 
common standards on data retention - eagerly sought by MI5 and MI6 - is 
certain to be opposed by Sweden, Germany and Denmark, which have 
powerful data protection laws. The commission did not include the idea 
in its proposals.

Anti-terrorism agencies want access to mobile phone records showing 
calls made and giving the location of the caller. Internet logs yield 
names and addresses and the source and destinations of emails and 
websites used.

The commission said it wanted a database of terrorists, better tracing 
of weapons and explosives and new procedures for banning organisations. 
"Priority is now on coordinating operational action," it urged 
ministers. "The exchange of information among and between national 
authorities and at EU level must be dramatically improved."

The exchange of intelligence should focus on how terrorist organisations 
recruit new members, identification of "sleeper cells", sources of 
funding and links outside Europe.

But there was immediate criticism that some proposals - such as a 
register of convicts - were either unrelated to terrorism or not 
restricted to it. "This is homeland security brought to the EU," said 
Tony Bunyan of the civil liberties group Statewatch. "Some are very 
proper and necessary measures that are needed to fight terrorism, but 
they are mixed up with a wish list of measures that apply more generally 
to crime and surveillance."

British officials insisted that some EU countries need to do far more to 
combat terrorism.

"Infringements of privacy are at most annoying," said one diplomat. 
"Infringements of security can be fatal."

Britain, France and Germany are expected to back the appointment of a 
senior EU official as anti-terrorism coordinator, answerable to the EU's 
foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who in turn answers to governments.

"We already have a lot of things in our favour in the fight against 
terrorism and have made much progress," said Dominique de Villepin, the 
French foreign minister. There is little support, however, for the idea 
of a European CIA, backed by countries such as Belgium, Austria and the 

Mr Blunkett will also propose the creation of a "terrorist assessment 
cell" inside the council of ministers' building in Brussels, deemed as a 
secure environment for classified data.

Practical measures will be announced at next week's fully-fledged EU 
summit in Brussels, which is formally devoted to the union's sluggish 
economic performance but is now certain to be dominated by the 
atrocities in Spain.

The European parliament yesterday threw out a US-EU accord on handing 
over the personal data of transatlantic air passengers.

The parliament's civil liberties committee condemned the commission for 
agreeing to pass on credit card and phone numbers which Washington 
insists it needs to spot potential terrorists.

The parliament's opinion has no legal force, but the commission will 
find it difficult to ignore such a strong political signal.

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