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Football hooligans to get data protection rights

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Police across Europe are being urged to respect the civil liberties of suspected football hooligans when they stalk them over the run-up to the 2008 European Championship in Austria and Switzerland.

European police forces were given the remit to share intelligence about football fans in 2002. The Austrians, wanting more intelligence on "risk supporters", are pushing through an update on the old framework.

MEPs this week voted to put some limiters on the law, ensuring that police respected their quarries' rights to data protection.

The Austrian proposal involves the collection of "personal data on risk supporters" and "football information points".

"The information points shall produce and circulate, for the benefit of other national football information points regular, generic and /or thematic national football disorder assessments," said an EU description of the proposal.

The legislation is being spurred on by a fear of football violence across Europe, with the death of a policeman in Italy, rubber bullets fired at rioting fans in Madrid, and a scrap between Arsenal and Chelsea players.

The idea is to nip disturbances in the bud, but it is not clear to what extent the police will be using controversial database profiling techniques to predict which fans are likely to misbehave.

The parliament believes that without recourse to data protection law the police might get out of hand with their information gathering.

Giusto Catania, the green socialist MEP who proposed the data protection measures said the intelligence gathering should contain "protection for human rights and individual freedoms".

That involved making sure the intelligence was only used in relation to international football matches and was not used to populate other police and civil databases.

The amendment should not be necessary because there are efforts to broaden European data protection law into police and judicial matters, where it does not yet apply. But there is some doubt among Parliamentarians that the protection will be adequate. ®

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