BRUSSELS -- European leaders have ordered police and intelligence agencies to
co-ordinate their efforts to identify and track the anti-capitalist
demonstrators whose violent protests at recent international summits
culminated in the shooting dead by police of a young protester at the Genoa
G8 meeting last month.
The new measures clear the way for protesters travelling between European
Union countries to be subjected to an unprecedented degree of surveillance.
Confidential details of decisions taken by Europe's interior ministers at
talks last month show that the authorities will use a web of police and
judicial links to keep tabs on the activities and whereabouts of
protesters. Europol, the EU police intelligence-sharing agency based in The
Hague that was set up to trap organised criminals and drug traffickers, is
likely to be given a key role.
The plan has alarmed civil rights campaigners, who argue that personal
information on people who have done no more than take part in a legal
demonstration may be entered into a database and exchanged.
Calls for a new Europe-wide police force to tackle the threat from hardline
anti-capitalists were led after the Genoa summit by Germany's Interior
Minister, Otto Schily. Germany has long pushed for the creation of a
Europe-wide crime-fighting agency modelled on the FBI.
Germany's EU partners rejected Mr Schily's call, judging that a new force
to combat political protest movements was too controversial, but ministers
agreed to extend the measures that can be taken under existing powers.
Central to the new push is the secretive Article 36 committee (formerly
known as the K4 committee) and the Schengen Information System, both of
which allow for extensive contact and data sharing between police forces.
Under the new arrangements, European governments and police chiefs will:
- Set up permanent contact points in every EU country to collect, analyse
and exchange information on protesters;
- Create a pool of liaison officers before each summit staffed by police
from countries from which "risk groups" originate;
- Use "police or intelligence officers" to identify "persons or groups
likely to pose a threat to public order and security";
- Set up a task force of police chiefs to organise "targeted training" on
The new measures will rely on two main ways of exchanging police
information. The Schengen Information System, which provides basic
information, and a supporting network called Sirene Supplementary
Information Request at the National Entry. This network (of which Britain
is a member) allows pictures, fingerprints and other information to be sent
to police or immigration officials once a suspect enters their territory.
Each country already has a Sirene office with established links to EU and
Nordic law enforcement agencies.
Civil liberties campaigners are dismayed by the plan. Tony Bunyan, editor
of Statewatch magazine, said: "This will give the green light to Special
Branch and MI5 to put under surveillance people whose activities are
Nicholas Busch, co-ordinator of the Fortress Europe network on civil
liberties issues, added: "People who have done nothing against the law
ought to be able to feel sure they are not under surveillance ... By
criminalising whole political and social scenes you fuel confrontation and
Thomas Mathieson, professor of sociology of law at the University of Oslo,
said police could have access to "very private information" about people's
religion, sex lives and politics. "It is a very dangerous situation from
the civil liberties point of view," he said.
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