Via the Convention on Modern Liberty‘s Twitter feed and following yesterday’s post on German concerns about the EU being used as a democratic bypass comes news of a worrying development for the freedom of every EU citizen:
People may be aware of the debate in the UK over access to communications data… but are less familiar with the role the UK government has played in the EU, where it first proposed mandatory data retention, backed by France, Ireland and Sweden, in April 2004. The final stages of its passage through the EU came under the UK presidency of the council, and their officials crawled all over the European parliament to get it passed. Despite widespread opposition from more than 200 civil society groups, the EU data protection commissioners and many in the parliament organised an alliance of the PSE (Socialist group, of which they are part) and the centre-right PPE (Conservative group) to steamroller it through in December 2005…
We have good reason to be very critical of the authoritarian direction the government has taken at home, but we should be equally vigilant of what the UK government gets up to in the EU – and at the same time wake up to the fact that many of the threats to our freedoms and liberties now originate from the EU. Indeed, the surveillance society, which makes suspects of us all, is to be the centrepiece of the next five-year plan for EU justice and home affairs to be adopted later this year (pdf).
As the Convention on Modern Liberty tweet noted, “EU law is now a major threat to privacy… And it’s not eurosceptic to say that”.
But, of course, this in nothing new. I noted the Blair government’s attempts to use the EU to force through unpopular changes a few years back, and was disgusted [on ID cards] and outraged [over internet regulation proposals – the first hints of this current unpleasant legislation] at the time. The real problem is, as ever, the governments of the member states and their ability to wrap up such deals behind closed doors at meetings of the Council – combined with a lack of reporting on the EU in the mainstream press that allows major national newspapers like the Guardian to fail to notice such distasteful legislation until it has already been passed, challenged in court, and passed again.
Give the people of Europe more say in how the EU is run, give the European Parliament more power to halt such unpleasantness, then press reporting on EU affairs would become more attentive, such moves by member state governments to abuse both the EU and its citizens would be spotted sooner, and effective pan-European opposition could be mobilised. As it is, everyone only finds out after it’s too late – no amount of attempts to highlight dodgy legislation from a mere small blog such as this one will ever reach enough people in time.
Meanwhile, let’s just sit back and marvel at how it is the UK – that last European bastion against the forces of totalitarian repression during the 1940s – that has been the driving force behind EU legislation that would not look out of place in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal or Vichy France.
Come on, EU – you’re meant to be better than this.
Update: Oh, the irony – the European Commission’s now complaining about people trying to steal its confidential data. What out OUR confidential data, Commission types?