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Clarke: Europe must trade civil liberties for security

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British Home Secretary Charles Clarke has warned that European citizens will have to accept that civil liberties may have to be bartered away in exchange for protection from terrorists and organised criminals.

Speaking at the European Parliament, he said that the European Convention on Human Rights might need to be changed if judges in European courts did not recognise that the right to life was more important that concerns about privacy.

"If the judges don't understand that message and don't take decisions which reflect where the people of the continent want to be, then the conclusion will be that politicians...will be saying we have got to have a change in this regime," Clarke told reporters.

Clarke will be hosting a two-day meeting with home affairs and justice ministers from across the EU.

Proposed new data retention laws that would require communications providers to retain communications data are top of the agenda for the meeting, despite that fact that the proposals have been declared illegal by lawyers at the European Council and Commission.

Clarke went on to say that Britain would use its presidency of the EU to give authorities more access to information. This, he said, would redress the balance between individual rights and national security.

However, Clarke has acknowledged that the government has failed to make a case for the necessity of the proposals.

Critics argue that the proposed laws would not solve any existing problems. They point out that not having the powers proposed in the data retention bill did not seem to hamper the investigation into the Madrid bombings, nor did it stop the police in the UK from tracking down and arresting in short order the four suspects in the 21 July attacks.

The Home Secretary has also come under heavy fire from European politicians, particularly the Greens and Liberal Democrats.

Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats told Reuters that the human rights of terrorists and victims of terrorist attacks should not be ranked differently: "Human rights are indivisible. Freedom and security are not alternatives, they go hand-in-hand. Much as the public may dislike it, suspected terrorists have rights." ®

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