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Wants to rein in war on terror

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The European Parliament is demanding a say on the computerized front of the US anti-terror war and pressing for a global agreement on inter-government data sharing.

The Parliament has adopted a resolution that conceded governments should do what they could to prevent terrorists attacking their people, yet stressed that anti-terrorist bloodhounds should be put on a leash.

"The fight against terrorism and crime must have proper democratic legitimacy, meaning that data-sharing programmes must at all times be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and judicial review," it said.

The Parliament expressed its official "reservations" about US schemes to suck up data about foreigners to check if any were terrorists.

Under the spotlight was the US Automated Targeting System (ATS), which builds complex profiles of people by examining their backgrounds, behaviour, associations, purchases, address, and so on.

It also criticised the controversial US system of capturing information about people travelling from Europe to the US - passenger name record (PNR or ATS-lite) - and US anti-terror investigators' snooping on Europe's international financial transactions by fingering the Belgian co-operative, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift).

These systems were implemented by "US requirements...without any involvement of the European Parliament," it said, and constituted a "violation of community as well as national legislation".

The Parliament also proposed a transatlantic data-sharing agreement with privacy protections to prevent governments prying unnecessarily or over-zealously into the private affairs of ordinary people.

"A future agreement must have more democratic legitimacy," it said. It should be based on evidence and, once it was set up, it ought to be reviewed by the Parliament - and perhaps Congress - regularly.

Such a statement appeared to recognise the growing fear among civil liberties campaigners that the technologies of surveillance and law enforcement are becoming so powerful so quickly that society is not getting an opportunity to absorb them safely.

The EU concluded that the improvements the US had made to its own privacy laws were still "insufficient".

While the EU might have had little hope of civilising the war on terror in recent years, things have been looking up since the Democrats took control of the US Congress. The European Parliament and Congress have already started working together on privacy and security, and discussions are on the agenda for the next EU-US summit on 30 April. They also propose sitting in on one another's sessions.

Yet the European Parliament might need all the help it can get. European member states are debating the lack of a cohesive privacy law to govern security. However, some member states, backed by security hawks in Brussels, have plans for computerised security that are similar to those of the US - subjecting not only their own citizens to the systems, but those outside the EU as well.

The Parliament also stressed the need to broaden its own data protection laws to cover police activities at home and then stretch them further into an overarching global agreement.®

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