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Privacy chief warns EU on terror laws

Security over privacy 'becoming a mantra'

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Europe's data protection chief has warned Portuguese ministers that fundamental rights to freedom are being abused in the name of security. Portugal takes over the rotating EU Presidency on 1st July.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has told the Portuguese ministers for justice and the interior that anti-terror laws proposed in Europe have shown a lack of understanding of human rights law and says that anti-terror laws could be written which would safeguard privacy rights.

"I fear that messages such as 'no right to privacy until life and security are guaranteed' are developing into a mantra suggesting that fundamental rights and freedoms are a luxury that security can not afford," said EDPS' Peter Hustinx. "I very much challenge that view and stress that there should be no doubt that effective anti-terror measures can be framed within the boundaries of data protection."

The EDPS is the privacy advisor for the EU's governing bodies and has been increasingly critical of some of the legal measures put in place and some of the activity of EU bodies in the name of anti-terrorism.

Hustinx has criticised a proposal from the EU Council of Ministers on how to deal with data protection in matters of policing and justice, where he said there was a danger that information could be passed to bodies not concerned with law enforcement.

In the past he has also criticised the activities of payments body SWIFT and said that a ruling by the European Court of Justice on the transfer of airline passenger data to US authorities left Europeans' data potentially exposed.

Hustinx told the Portuguese ministers that European politicians were making increasingly alarming statements on the issue of compromises of citizens' privacy. He singled out comments made by Home Secretary John Reid at a recent G6 summit in Venice.

"The Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Dr John Reid, called for human rights law to be rewritten, stating that 'The right to security, to the protection of life and liberty, is and should be the basic right on which all others are based'," wrote Hustinx in his letter (pdf) to Portuguese justice minister Alberto Costa.

"This position could be potentially dangerous and may produce more problems than it seeks to solve. Not only does it reveal a lack of understanding of the current framework of human rights in general, and data protection legislation in particular, which both enable proportionate measures that are necessary for public security or defence, it also ignores the lessons learned about the abuse of fundamental rights from dealing with terrorism within Europe's borders over the last 50 years.

"There should be no doubt that effective anti-terror measures can be framed within the boundaries of fundamental rights. It is these rights that need to be protected under all circumstances in a democratic society," wrote Hustinx.

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