Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU passport-free travel at risk, Tusk warns

  • Tusk: 'If we do not get a single European PNR we may end up with 28 national ones' (Photo: European Parliament)

The president of the EU Council has warned that border free travel in the EU could be undermined should lawmakers decide against stepping up security policies.

Donald Tusk on Tuesday (13 January) told MEPs in Strasbourg that an incoherent EU-wide security policy would “put at risk the freedom that we have built at the European level, including Schengen".

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“Under my watch, I do not want to see that happen.”

The comments come after the Paris attack against Charlie Hebdo, which has since seen calls from EU ministers and heads of state to step up security and surveillance measures.

At stake is an EU-wide passenger name records (EU PNR) bill that would require airlines to hand over the personal data of its customers to the police.

Tusk said the bill is needed to prevent a patchwork of individual national systems from emerging.

“One European system is clearly better for security and freedom, that was true in December, and unfortunately, it is even more true today,” he said.

National governments want the bill passed as part of a larger effort to locate and track possible terrorists.

The bill, proposed in 2011, has met resistance from MEPs in the civil liberties who voted it down in 2013, over concerns it will violate fundamental freedoms like privacy and is disproportionate.

"We are not against a European PNR system, as long as it goes hand in hand with the necessary data protection safeguards,” said Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt.

Pressure to get it ratified is mounting from inside the EU parliament as well.

EU parliament chief Martin Schulz told reporters in Strasbourg that he intends to use his chairmanship of the house to get the bill passed.

“I will continue to push my position,” he said.

Counter narratives and Internet surveillance

While PNR has dominated the public debate, EU interior ministers are moving ahead with other plans to counter the terrorism threat.

This includes increasing the systematic checks of IDs and figuring out ways to tackle online Jihadist propaganda and recruitment.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft met with all 28 EU interior ministers last October to figure out how to stop the spread of militant Islamist propaganda online.

The commission has since proposed setting up a forum with the firms and member states to develop ways to “enhance European capacity to ensure the removal of illegal content".

The United Kingdom, for its part, already has a special team of operatives, known as the CT Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), tasked to take down such websites.

On Monday, the UK’s prime minister proposed further measures to remove encryption technologies used to mask people’s identities.

The British idea has sparked backlash from civil rights groups.

“Proposals to outlaw encrypted communications not only threaten the very rights they're said to be designed to protect, but begin from a fundamentally flawed premise - that such measures are even possible,” said Mike Rispoli, spokesman for Privacy International, in response to Cameron’s scheme.

Where Jihadist content cannot be removed, the commission has proposed setting up a counter-narrative unit - EU Syria strategic communications advisory team (SSCAT) - tasked to help member states debunk the militant content.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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