Europe and the War on Liberty II

by Maria on April 30, 2004

I’m running between meetings and trying to get this story into the print media (why do these things always happen on a Friday afternoon?) of an important development in the privacy of communication, so I will just point you to a leaked document hosted by the indefatigable people over at Statewatch.

Ireland, Britain, France and Sweden have proposed that the European Council of Ministers pass a Framework Decision on the retention of communications and mobile phone location data throughout the EU. This is the latest in an ongoing effort of certain European law enforcement interests (led by the UK, pushed by the US) to create a total surveillance capacity over anyone who uses a communications device of any kind, anywhere in the EU. This is sad, bad and disastrous news.

Yet again, policies which fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state are being pushed through the most secretive and unaccountable decision-making body of the EU. Yet again, so-called anti-terrorism measures are being opportunistically introduced – this time in reaction to the Madrid bombings – but applied far beyond terrorism related investigations.

As comparisons go, this measure will far exceed the Patriot Act. It is obscenely dismissive of European data protection law – which now applies to multinationals using call centres but not to curb the state excesses it was created to prevent. It is absolutely sickening to see the Irish government using its presidency of the EU to endorse measures that cut the heart right out of European human rights.

For any decision-makers who haven’t been listening to the years of pleas and demands that EU states not use the promise of information and communications technologies to surveil their citizens, hear this: we don’t trust you, we don’t support you, and unlike you we haven’t forgotten the historical reasons Europe chose to stop governments compiling databases of their citizens’ most innocent acts.



John Isbell 04.30.04 at 3:39 pm

If they were proposing systematic surveillance of the EU’s heads of state, I think I could get behind it. Blair on the phone to Bush would be worth having for posterity.
Maybe an MEP could propose that. It would indisputably do more to cut down on harm suffered by EU citizens. Imagine the Berlusconi phone calls.


ian 04.30.04 at 3:39 pm

Can’t get trackback to work on an amended post so see here:


jdsm 04.30.04 at 4:04 pm

The truth is, most of us won’t notice the surveillance and won’t care because we have nothing to hide. Those of us that do have something to hide have to worry and these kinds of measures may well make for a safer more law abiding EU, less open to terrorist threats. So I support it.

The same goes for ID cards while we’re at it. We basically have ID cards in Finland and I have to confess I don’t feel especially choked by the oppressive state.


Ray 04.30.04 at 4:27 pm

“The truth is, most of us won’t notice the surveillance and won’t care because we have nothing to hide. ”

Sure. And next we’ll abandon the need for search warrants, or any restrictions on police power to stop and seize – if you’ve nothing to hide, why worry?
Recording all personal phone calls, tracking all purchases and library borrowings – why would you complain unless you’ve something to hide?
Mandatory fingerprinting and DNA sampling for every adult – *I* haven’t done anything wrong, why would I object?
A short, painless operation to install tracker chips, so that the police will always know where you’ve been and where you are – only terrorists could possibly object.
Video cameras in every home, surveillance cameras on every corner – hey, they’re there for my protection, right?


P O'Neill 04.30.04 at 4:56 pm

It is absolutely sickening to see the Irish government using its presidency of the EU to endorse measures that cut the heart right out of European human rights.

What did you expect? Bertie Ahern has no principle other that Go With the Flow, especially the UK/US flow, so seeing him on board for this is utterly unsurprising. To the extent that the Irish government talks about human rights at all, it’s merely for a bit of rhetoric about Northern Ireland — for instance, to demand that the North must have better police oversight, something completely absent from the Republic.


Andrew Case 04.30.04 at 4:57 pm

“The truth is, most of us won’t notice the surveillance and won’t care because we have nothing to hide.” – jdsm

You left out an important word – “yet” You do not yet have anything to hide. In due course, as the nannyists take over government, you *will* have something to hide, be it a fondness for fatty foods, a habit of smoking a cigar once in a while, a belief that mild physical punishment of children is OK, – the list is endless.

I’d much rather take the (frankly tiny) chance of being killed by a terrorist than the near certainty of being abused by my own government for some minor infraction which shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.


jdsm 04.30.04 at 6:07 pm


Your argument is a version of the slippery slope argument, which only works if you assume the steps taken are based on principle. They aren’t, they’re based on whether they are practically effective when balanced with the loss of freedom. Thus, the slippery slope argument doesn’t work.

People should remember that we live in a democracy. If people feel their lives are made perceptibly worse by these measures, they will vote for the party that will remove them.


cafl 04.30.04 at 6:55 pm

jdsm — Civil rights protections are a countervailing force to pure democracy. They protect the rights of minorities. Living in a democracy doesn’t protect religious minorities…minorities can’t vote out the abusers of their rights. And so on.


jdsm 04.30.04 at 9:15 pm


Protecting certain freedoms of religious minorities is a different thing to what is proposed. I’m not sure it’s plausible that if it were to be found that these measures were used to target specific ethnic groups, that this would not cause consternation among the rest of the populace.

I agree that if you have a corrupt government and if they are not accountable, then you can have problems with measures like these. I don’t think European governments are generally especially corrupt and they are all accountable to their voters who would in practise get rid of any government they found to be abusing its power.


Tom T. 05.01.04 at 3:23 pm

What is meant by “traffic and location data”? What information, precisely, are they proposing to store? Who would store it, governments or the private communications companies involved? How would it be accessible; would a warrant be necessary? What is the current practice with regard to such information? The Statewatch article is not clear on these points.


Maria 05.03.04 at 10:11 am

Tom t – further info on the proposal is here.

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