Justice & Home Affairs / MEPs call for review of EU counter-terrorism policies

  • Member states will have to report about the effectiveness of their surveillance methods (Photo: Flickr)

By Valentina Pop

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament on Wednesday (14 December) called on member states to submit reports on the cost-efficiency of their counter-terrorism measures and their impact on civil liberties, with the European Commission set to produce an EU-wide evaluation.

“Remarkably little has been done to assess to what degree EU counter-terrorism policies have achieved the stated objectives,” MEPs said in the non-binding text, which calls on the EU commission to make use of its powers under the Lisbon Treaty and to produce a “full and detailed” evaluation of such policies and the extent to which they are subject to democratic scrutiny.

The cost-efficiency report should include spending for online snooping, data protection measures, funding of counter-terrorism research and relevant EU expenditures set in place since 2001, such as the appointment of an EU anti-terrorism co-ordinator and his staff.

Private sector-related costs, for instance of telecommunication companies having to store all details of phone conversations, text messages and emails of their customers for up to two years, are to be included. The gains that businesses have made in the new market are also to be covered by the count.

The text was adopted with 307 votes in favour, 259 against and 54 abstentions.

It was a compromise version supported by a coalition of liberal, centre-left and green parties with a few centre-right MEPs also voting in favour. The original was withdrawn and re-drafted earlier in autumn when it became obvious the centre-right EPP group would vote against it.

Liberal Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, was responsible for drafting the text says that the core demands were kept, even if there are fewer details in the final version.

“The core message of the report is to take stock of what we have in terms of counter-terrorism policies and see what works, if we need more or less data gathering from now on,” she told this website.

One such upcoming policy – a continuation of an existing ‘interim’ agreement with the US – is the so-called Passenger Name Record deal approved on Tuesday by interior ministers and now awaiting parliamentary approval.

Under the agreement, airlines are exempt from data protection rules in the EU when agreeing to send all personal and financial data of all air travellers flying to the US from any European destination. The declared purpose is to fight against terrorism and other serious cross-border crime punishable with more than three years of prison under US law.

The European Data protection supervisor has warned that the deal in its current form still has “excessive” retention periods – of 15 years – and said data should be deleted immediately after its analysis or after maximum 6 months.

Sensitive data such as meal preferences, indicating religion, should be excluded rather than sent and then blackened-out, and the list of potential crimes pursued with PNR-based investigations defined more specifically, the supervisor said.

MEPs could still strike down the deal, the way they did with another data transfer deal for anti-terrorism purposes early 2010 – the so-called Swift deal on banking data transfers.

But in’t Veld, who is also drafting the parliament’s position on passenger data, says this time around things are different because the US has the sovereign right to demand anything it wants from European airlines or to ban them from entering its airspace.

“I can’t predict what the outcome of the PNR vote will be. It’s still extremely problematic compared to what we had asked for,” she said.

She also admitted that no agreement at all would put European airlines in a pickle, as it would open them up for potential court cases on data protection. The PNR vote is likely to take place in February.

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