EU security plans threaten freedom, says rights expert


PEOPLE COULD find their liberties severely curtailed if EU plans on harmonising security measures, including the collection and storage of personal data, go ahead, according to a leading civil rights expert.

Tony Bunyan, director of human rights organisation Statewatch and author of books on policing and human rights in Europe, was speaking in Dublin at the weekend at a meeting organised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

He pointed out the EU is developing a new five-year strategy for justice, home affairs and security policy for 2009-2014. “The proposals set out by the shadowy ‘Future Group’ include a range of controversial measures including techniques and technologies of surveillance and enhanced co-operation with the United States,” he said. “[These] require unfettered powers to access and gather masses of personal data on the everyday life of everyone so that we can all be safe and secure from perceived ‘threats’. But how are we to be safe from the State itself, from its uses and abuses of the data they hold on us?”

Mr Bunyan warned the EU plans involved harmonising laws at national level, and the removal of “obstacles”, like judicial authorisation to gather, access and transfer data. He cited a statement from the Portuguese council presidency of the EU that the development of technology meant every transaction made by an individual and much of their travel would create a digital record. The statement added this could be used by public security organisations and create huge opportunities for public security efforts.

“Soon we will have one card for everything,” he told The Irish Times. “We will have to supply fingerprints for passports and digital pictures, bank records will be on it, criminal records. It will be possible to add on health and social welfare records, to keep people’s travel history, to have pictures of people attending demonstrations. This will add up to a pretty big picture of your life.

“Then banks or multinational companies can come along and say they want your card to borrow money. When it all comes together you can stop people doing things. For example, the State can say a person can’t travel somewhere, and then their passport won’t work. We are approaching that futuristic scenario, when the State can put blocks on you.”

He agreed those seeking extended data-collection powers said those with nothing to hide had nothing to fear. “If they can hold all that information on us, why can’t we know who can access it, and for what purpose? They won’t give that information.”