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Howard's End: Europe-Wide Web Of Watchers

Anti-capitalist protesters travelling between European Union countries will be subject to unprecedented surveillance following a decision by European leaders last month, but civil liberties campaigners are outraged. Maree Howard writes.

European leaders have ordered co-ordinated security efforts to identify demonstrators such as those whose violent protests at recent international summits ended in the fatal shooting of a protester at the G-8 Genoa meeting last month.

The Independent of London reported Monday that confidential details of decisions taken by Europe's interior ministers last month, reveals that enforcement authorities will use a web of police and judicial links to keep tabs on the activities and whereabouts of protesters across Europe, including Britain.

Europol, the EU police intelligence-sharing agency based in the Hague which was originally established to track organised criminals and drug-traffickers, is likely to be given the expanded surveillance role.

Europol is linked to Interpol and there are now fears that each agency will swap the information of protesters leaving from countries outside of Europe, such as New Zealand.

EU Police chiefs will establish permanent contact points in every EU country to collect, analyse and exchange information on protesters.

A pool of liaison officers, to be created before each summit, will be staffed by police from countries from which risk groups originate, while police or intelligence officers will also be used to identify people or groups likely to pose a threat to public order and security.

Germany and its Interior Minister Otto Schilly have long pushed for the creation of a Europe wide crime-fighting agency modelled on the FBI.

EU partners decided that a new force to combat political protest was too controversial but they did agree to increase existing police powers.

Scoop has known for some time that a secretive committee called Article 36 has been pushing for such a surveillance force using the Schengen Information System, which allows for extensive contact and data sharing between police and intelligence services.

The Schengen Information System provides basic information while a sister network, Supplementary Information Request and National Entry, provides support.

The networks allow photographs, fingerprints and other information to be sent to police and immigration officers once a suspect enters their territory.

But civil liberties campaigners are outraged saying that the EU Minister's decision opens the door for police and intelligence agencies to place people under surveillance just for going about their lawful democratic right to protest.

Thomas Mathieson, professor of sociology law at Oslo University, is reported saying it is a very dangerous situation if police could have access to very private information such as religion, sex lives and politics.

There are also fears that the extended EU powers could spill over to wider use of the Echelon global spy system of which New Zealand is part.

George Orwell said in his book Nineteen Eighty-four " If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."


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