Europe must not allow itself to be blackmailed by the US

12 February 2007

Europe must not allow itself to be blackmailed by the US

When it comes to privacy and civil rights, Europe is allowing itself to be blackmailed by the United States. The US hides behind the 'struggle against terrorism' as the ultimate argument justifying its desire to know everything about everyone, claiming this as the basis on which it has the right to decide whether you can board a plane or send money to your family abroad. Europe must not go along with this terrorism-hysteria. It should refuse to be bullied by threats from Washington, keep its head and tackle the problem of terrorism in a serious fashion while protecting the privacy of European citizens and European firms.

Kartika Liotard, Member of the European Parliament for the SP

This week the European Parliament debated the issue of privacy with the Commission and the Council. The debate was occasioned by the US sticking its nose into the details of European bank transactions and airline passenger data. American secret services have access to all international bank transactions recorded in the SWIFT database. Should the US come across a name it regards as suspect, transfer of moneys may be delayed or blocked.

Under European law, secret services have no right to go sniffing around someone's bank account, let alone interfere in this manner in a private individual's financial affairs. American legislation is, however, somewhat more lax.

The same applies in relation to passenger data, which European airlines are obliged to hand over to the US authorities. Name, address, passport number, and even what you like to eat: the CIA finds it all of interest. European Commissioner for Freedom and Security Franco Frattini is, it's true, asking the US to reduce the number of pieces of information they require on each passenger from thirty-two to a mere nineteen, but if the CIA finds this insufficient, European air travellers will be required to sign a declaration agreeing to the transfer of all these data to the American secret services. "If you don't sign it, then you won't be allowed into the US, so most passengers will agree to do so" says Frattini. Agree or stay home is, he seems to think, a real choice. In both cases Europe is presenting itself as a victim offering a somewhat fumbling, largely symbolic agreement.

It is of course necessary for the US and Europe to cooperate to combat terrorism. But cooperation is not the same as being spied on, or blackmailed. America cannot, moreover, afford a situation in which Europeans no longer fly to the US, or transfer money across borders. Frattini should therefore not have given up the ghost so easily. All the Americans have to do is say which villains they are after and we'll certainly give them a call if they're moving money around or trying to board a plane. For the time being, however, we are being given over to the will of the US, and without extradition. This is no conspiracy theory, but daily practice. When Sesame Street clown Hakim is seen by the Americans as a terrorist suspect because he transferred money to a friend in France, laughter no longer seems an appropriate response. A few days after the debate, the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs considered a resolution in favour of a stronger European answer to this American blackmail. Hopefully, this time the Parliament will for once show its teeth.

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