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The European Commission has opened a public consultation on the use of surveillance technology in civil society.

At the initiative's heart is the desire to work with industry to create more and better surveillance systems that it can use to monitor the public in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

The EC Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security said in a statement it would publish a green paper*, inviting consultation on "what role the Union could play in order to foster detection technologies in the service of the security of its citizens".

The green paper was drawn up from the results of a conference of "major European business" and the public sector last November, called the Public-Private Security Dialogue: Detection Technologies and Associated Technologies in the Fight against Terrorism.

Ben Hayes, spokesman for civil liberties campaigner Statewatch, said private industry has been given too much control over Europe's surveillance policy.

A Statewatch report published in April warned that the EU had been handing private defence firms the power to decide how EU money was spent implementing security measures in civil society.

Hayes said these were areas where the defence firms stood to benefit. Moreover, those firms were worried about $1bn of state subsidies given to US firms to develop civil surveillance in the name of homeland security - detailed in Statewatch's Arming Big Brother report.

European firms feared this would give US firms an unfair advantage in the emerging market of civil surveillance, so they had sought, and won, more say on EU funding.

Yet, said Hayes, people representing the interest of civil liberties against big business were under-represented. The April report, Arming Big Brother, documented the creation of the European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB), which advises the EC on matters related to security spending. A third of its members were from industry, another third from member states and academia. Only two out of 50 members represented the civil liberties of European citizens.

Statewatch had dubbed this conjunction of public administration and private industry the "security-industry complex", a play on the phrase used by US President Dwight David Eisenhower to warn in 1961 that unprecedented amounts of money being given to private industry by the military should not result in unwarranted influence of war profiteers over policy.

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together," he said.

The EC, however, said its surveillance consultation would consider civil liberties. Surveillance and "detection technologies" were "inherently intrusive", said the EC statement.

"Their use needs to be carefully analysed, in order to establish limitations to their intrusiveness where necessary," it added.

It also said any legislation that came out of the consultation must "fully comply" with EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Particular attention must be paid to compliance with the protection of personal data and the right to private life," it said.

The consultation will ask how the EC should address itself to the task of watching its citizens. In particular how different surveillance technologies should be standardised and integrated, how they should be used and what should be done at mass events like sports games.

It will consider surveillance, biometrics, tools for analysing communications and documents, and devices for detecting illegal substances.

The strong say of the private sector in these matters was decided by the European Council in 2004, when it adopted the The Hague Programme ("strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union"). This noted the importance of an industrial say in the matters of civil policy, said the statement.

"This Green Paper aims to provide the ingredients for initiating such dialogue within the field of detection technologies," it added.®

* The green paper -- "on detection technologies in the work of law enforcement, customs and other security authorities" -- was published Monday, but is not yet available to the public.

To get have your say the green paper is available here (Pdf)here.

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