Sunday, July 04, 2004

When in doubt, try to have more powers of control

Before her execution during the French Revolutionary Terror, Madame Roland, the prominent Girondist and wife to another one, is supposed to have exclaimed: “Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name.”.

Without using that language, we can but sigh about the crimes against liberty that are committed or planned in the name of anti-terrorist security.

Tomorrow Mr Blunkett, who is bidding to be one of the least successful Home Secretaries of the last thirty years, will be hosting a meeting in Sheffield of the Interior Ministers of the so-called G5, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. (That makes 5 with the UK but I don’t exactly understand the so-called part of it. So-called by whom? I have never heard that expression until I read it in the news release today.)

Mr Blunkett’s great suggestion will be the pooling of the DNA database across the EU. The buzz-word is co-operation. The EU must have more co-operation across national borders; more information on fingerprints and biometric records must be pooled.

Whatever for? Plenty of information crosses borders already and, in any case, the fight against terrorism is world-wide. This is just an excuse to integrate policing and to collect more and more information about all sorts of people.

Mr Blunkett assures us that pooling information would have prevented the Madrid outrage of this May. Really? How? It seems the Spanish police and, possibly, their colleagues in the other countries, were fully aware who were the people active in the Al-Quaeda cells that had been established over the last ten years in that country – long before 9/11.

The only thing that could have prevented the Madrid horror, short of indefinite preventive detention of all suspects, is greater vigilance on the part of the authorities and, dare one say it, on the part of the public. The idea that a dozen rucksacks, stuffed with explosives could have been left up and down the Madrid underground system with nobody, nobody noticing or reporting them, beggars belief. Or perhaps, they were reported but this was ignored and the police is keeping very quiet.

There is plenty of information around and plenty of co-operation as is obvious from daily reports. Of course, police forces must talk to each other but, as many of the more liberal Arab and North African writers and politicians have attested, a change of attitude in many European countries and, in particular, in the establishments of those countries is also needed.

Above all, the fight against terrorism must not be used as an excuse for a greater centralization of policing across the EU and for yet more controls placed on peaceful, law-abiding citizens. And now that I think of it, how can five countries make that sort of a decision for the whole of the EU, which now has 25 members?

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