Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/15/eu_statewatch/
The EU is out to get you, after all
Watch your liberties, Statewatch warns
Apologies - from The Register, no less - for appearing to give the impression that the latest piece of Euro-surveillance was not actually part of an ongoing dastardly plot to have each and every one of us "pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and, er, numbered" .
Half an apology, perhaps. We reported recently  that the European Parliamentary Transport Committee plans to put in place a scheme to pass data back and forth across national boundaries. Trojan horse for future spying? Or just reasonable concern over road safety?
We opted then, and still do, for the latter. However, a report, The State of Things to Come (pdf) , published last week by Statewatch, suggests otherwise. Statewatch  is a voluntary organisation committed to monitoring the state and civil liberties in Europe, which it has been doing since its establishment in 1991.
The Statewatch report is a formal response to a report (pdf)  by the EU "Future Group", billed as the work of the Informal High Level Advisory Group on the Future of European Home Affairs Policy. This outlines a five year EU strategy for justice and home affairs and security policy for 2009-2014.
The proposals in the EU report include a range of extremely controversial measures including techniques and technologies of surveillance and enhanced cooperation with the United States.
The Shape of Things to Come examines these proposals in some depth. Their focus, however, is on three highly worrying aspects of what might be described as geek-driven policy making.
First is that one of the drivers fundamentally altering the balance between state and individual is technology itself. As we has previously noted - in the area of CCTV, for instance - the fact that we can carry out more accurate surveillance and monitoring is argument enough for doing so.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch director and author of this report, gives the example of a recent debate about the age at which children should be fingerprinted for passports.
"This debate," he explained, "was carried out in a committee that deals with technical issues. It was totally devoid of any moral or political input."
Second is the increased blurring of the line between safety and security. Tony Bunyan again: "People wish to feel safe. Security is all about the interests of the State."
However, since 9/11 some degree of liberal restraint - and the sense that individuals should have a right to privacy - has been overturned before the altar of absolute security.
A sense of how things have changed may be gleaned from the Future Group report, which talks about harnessing the power of what it calls the "digital tsunami" for the benefit of law enforcement and security agencies. Or, as the EU Council presidency puts it:
"Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations, and create huge opportunities for more effective and productive public security efforts."
The third factor that, according to Tony Bunyan, is working massively to erode traditional safeguards is the way in which the EU appears to be kowtowing to the demands of the US, without putting in place any corresponding safeguards for its own citizenry.
If you think it isn't happening, then take a look at chapter two of the Statewatch report, which sets out in fairly gory detail a list of schemes and initiatives already in place or underway in Europe.
Last word to Jean Lambert MEP , a member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, who commented:
"The idea that information makes you safe is a total fallacy. Data capture needs to be proportional and effective and, put simply, more information becomes increasingly difficult to manage and evaluate. The Government and their outsourced agencies have already proven that they can't be trusted to keep data safe, so we need to exercise caution.
"Member States should have to prove why data capture is necessary and be very clear about who will have access to that data before they are permitted to use and store it. There should be a presumption against gathering citizens' personal data for the sake of it. Once data is held there is the potential for it to be misused by persons not acting in our best interests.
"I share the concerns of Statewatch and voted against the EU Directive on Data Retention and I will continue to fight other measures which could lead to infringements of our right to privacy. I agree that there is a need for meaningful and wide-ranging debate on this subject to avoid the further violation of our civil liberties." ®