European governments look to balance security, privacy
The recent bombings have heightened security throughout the EU.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
LONDON -- After 9/11, many European voices criticized the United States for passing the Patriot Act, which they felt sacrificed too many civil liberties in the name of cracking down on terrorism.
Now, one week after 7/7, European governments are wrestling with the balance between security and privacy as never before. And their efforts are giving new energy to counterterrorism cooperation.
In a flurry of activity this week:
* France announced plans to reintroduce border controls such as passport checks that were scrapped under the Schengen free- borders agreement with 14 other European countries.
* Italy announced closer monitoring of its northern border. And it detained 174 people suspected of being involved in Islamic militant groups. Italy's interior minister also asked parliament to expand police powers, including the right to question terrorism suspects without a lawyer.
* Germany drew up plans for a national anti-terror database.
* In Brussels, meanwhile, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke called for better information sharing among law enforcement services and for redoubled efforts to stanch the flow of terrorist funds.
He also persuaded his counterparts to move ahead with plans to compel telecommunication firms to store phone and Internet records for possible intelligence use, saying the data would be vital to connect the dots of terror networks.
Analysts noted that some of these ideas had first emerged after the Madrid attacks in 2004, and said the long delay in implementation highlighted the problems of European counterterrorism cooperation.
Many added that they are skeptical at the new initiatives and nervous about sacrificing hard-won freedoms for the perception of extra security.
"This is a specific kind of ritual after every terror attack," said Rolf Tophoven, the director of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Essen, Germany. "After the shock we get this sudden activity on the political level on a huge scale. We get all these declarations that we have to make some new laws," he said. "Then, weeks later, you look and find every nation is acting by itself."
Though information sharing has improved between national police forces and intelligence agencies, experts say there is still room for greater cooperation, and that the national instincts of some services still preclude better collaboration.
"What does seem to make sense is that Europe needs real common investigations of these things rather than just sharing of intelligence against groups," said Dana Allin, an expert in European security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
"You're not going to have a European FBI," he conceded, "but these bombings are making people think seriously about European security as an EU-wide problem."
Efforts are hampered by differing judicial and political frameworks in each country. France, for example, has a centralized system, whereas Germany works on a more fragmented federal level. France has robust laws for detaining suspects and judges specifically trained to deal with the cases. Others do not.
And some countries, such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain, feel the need to step up efforts more urgently because they feel they are targets; other, smaller European countries that have no troops in Iraq or Afghanistan may feel measures are excessive for their needs.