The EU unveiled a range of measures yesterday to combat terrorism, draft laws which would criminalize use of the internet to incite or recruit for acts of terrorism and compel airlines to supply information, to be stored for 13 years, on all air passengers flying into or out of the EU.
The proposals, likely to be in force across the EU within three years, could turn Europe into the most monitored space on the planet, according to civil rights campaigners.
Arguing that the internet was a "virtual training ground" for international terrorism, Franco Frattini, the European commissioner for justice and security, denied that internet service providers or electronic media would need to police their content. "This is not feasible and could actually be Orwellian," he said, unveiling the package. "Those telling others how to commit acts of destruction - with a clear terrorist intention - should be put behind bars. Be it on the internet or print."
Mr Frattini also outlined moves to track missing, lost, and stolen explosives across Europe, boosting the powers of Europol, the European police agency based in The Hague, and proposed that airlines be ordered to supply national authorities in EU member states with 19 pieces of information on all passengers flying into or out of the EU.
The EU has already agreed to supply the US and Canada with air passenger data for people flying from the EU across the Atlantic. It is also negotiating a parallel agreement with Australia.
The information on travelers will include names, passport numbers, addresses, credit card details, email addresses, and phone numbers.
Mr Frattini denied that information on religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation would be collected and stored. "Such practice would be illegal besides being irrelevant," he said.
MEPs of various political persuasions attacked the commission's decisions or doubted their efficacy.
Liberal MEPs said there was no evidence that the travel data would help to curb terrorism, while Greens said the measures were incoherent and ineffective.
"This is just another extension of the surveillance society being built across Europe. If we continue to remove people's basic liberties in this way, the terrorists will have won," said Syed Kamall, the Conservative MEP.
"The use of this data for other purposes, now or in the future, will make the EU the most surveilled place in the world," said Tony Bunyan of State watch. "There is little evidence that the gathering of mountain upon mountain of data on the activities of every person in the EU makes a significant contribution."
But Britain supports the legislation, arguing that much of it is "sensible" and that the travel data, in particular, is highly effective in the fight against terrorism as well as organized crime.
For almost two years, the Home Office has been running a similar pilot project, called Project Semaphore, asking airlines to supply passenger data on selected routes. The data is analyzed by police, customs, and immigration authority computers. Purely on the basis of this information and within a six-week period, British authorities made 1,200 arrests of suspects. ( Buzzle )