By Hilary White
LONDON, June 15, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Under Britain’s just-ousted Labour government, the country joined an EU scheme to allow the government to gather data on citizens who voice or share “radical” political opinions.
The move has prompted warnings from a civil liberties watchdog.
The NGO Statewatch said Monday that European governments are planning to force all of the continent’s telephone carriers, mobile network operators and Internet service providers to store details of their customers’ web use, e-mails and phone calls for up to 2 years.
Under the EU’s “data compilation instrument,” activists labeled by the government as “extreme right/left, Islamist, nationalist or anti-globalisation” may be put under surveillance, with the information gathered being made available to police and security forces in member states.
Statewatch warned that the scheme could be applied not only to those associated with terrorism but also to anyone with legitimate political differences with the state.
Confidential documents obtained by Statewatch reveal that the data-gathering originally intended to target “radicalisation and recruitment” in Islamic terrorist groups has been expanded to incorporate other, largely undefined, groups. Europol, an EU law enforcement agency, has already been asked to produce a list of people involved in promoting or recruiting in such groups.
Statewatch said, “The ‘instrument’ is not primarily about people or groups intending to commit terrorist acts. But rather directed at people and groups who hold radical views described as those propagating ‘RM’ (radical messages)."
“Who is going to be using this ‘instrument’ placing a very wide spectrum of people and groups under surveillance? EU police forces, security and intelligence agencies plus ‘EU institutions and agencies.’”
The European Parliament is currently debating changes to the 1997 EU Directive on privacy in telecommunications that states data can only be retained for billing purposes and must then be deleted. Proposed changes to the directive would allow individual countries to bring in laws forcing communications companies to retain data.
Statewatch, however, said their group has seen an EU “framework decision,” which would force all governments to pass laws that would compel communications companies to retain all traffic data for 12 to 24 months. This framework decision could be voted on as early as next month.
“EU governments claimed that changes to the 1997 EC Directive on privacy in telecommunications to allow for data retention and access by the law enforcement agencies would not be binding on member states - each national parliament would have to decide."
“Now we know that all along they were intending to make it binding, compulsory across Europe,” Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, said in a statement.
The left-leaning Guardian newspaper suggests that the documents’ undefined term “domestic extremists,” could be used to target “law-abiding environmental protesters, anti-war activists, and anti-racist campaigners.”
The documents specify “environmental extremists,” along with far-right activists, dissident Irish republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, and al-Qaida inspired extremists, as being among groups “currently categorised as extremist [that] may include those who have committed serious crime in pursuit of an ideology or cause.”
But the documents include a note that individual states are expected to amend and tailor the scheme to local “needs.” In Britain’s current political climate, Christian and politically or socially conservative groups have already been heavily targeted for state interference.
Read Statewatch analysis here.
Read related LSN coverage:
Homeland Security Targets Abortion Opposition as Warning Sign of “Rightwing Extremism”