Tuesday

24th Nov 2020

EU 'homeland security' plan ratchets up border protection

  • The EU wants 'smarter management' of its borders (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission on Monday (22 November) tabled an "Internal Security Strategy" with proposals ranging from cyber-squads fighting online fraud to enhanced border management and EU data systems to track potential terrorists taking a flight or wiring money to suspicious organisations.

The plan, which includes 41 actions to be regulated in the coming four years, is aimed at implementing the extra powers in the field of home affairs acquired by the EU once the Lisbon Treaty came into force.

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It also responds to requests from the European Parliament to have EU-based data extraction and analysis on bank transactions to terrorist organisations, instead of sending all the banking data to the US, where such a programme has existed since 2001.

Similarly, air passenger data being collected by various European airlines and handed over to US authorities whenever they fly over the Atlantic, may be in future shared and analysed amongst EU countries as well, in the search for terrorists and gangsters.

"We don't propose many new organisations, but we want to equip existing ones with better tools," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said during a press briefing.

She fiercely rejected the idea that the EU was about to create "gigantic databases" and encourage people to spy on each other in the search for potential terrorists.

"A big database on all citizens would not be very democratic. We need legal limitation on the size and scope of how data is collected," she stressed.

Instead, the commission is proposing a network where local police, NGOs and religious congregations across Europe can "share best practices" on how to best "identify and work with these vulnerable people [potential home-grown militants]," the Swedish commissioner explained.

One new programme, Eurosur, in the field of border surveillance – was "asked for" years ago by member states and will "work closely" with EU's border agency Frontex.

Eurosur is likely to spark controversy among human rights groups pointing to the fallacy of mashing together asylum seekers and irregular migrants with traffickers and organised crime lords.

In the commission's own description of the programme, Eurosur would be a "system of systems" focusing on enhanced border surveillance "in order to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who enter the EU" especially across the Mediterranean. It was initially a request from southern states such as Italy and Greece that have not stepped up their administrative response to dealing with asylum claims and are even pushing back boats of people without checking if they are refugees or not.

Frontex itself had received criticism for helping Italian sea patrols in pushing back migrant boats. The agency says it has since changed its code of conduct to give greater emphasis to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Ms Malmstrom, a former MEP and civil liberties campaigner, has tried to push for a more rights-oriented approach in EU's dealings with migrants.

"I want border guards, police, and customs officials to co-operate much more effectively at the real hotspots of the EU external borders in order to better fight human trafficking, trafficking in illegal and dangerous goods, and other criminal activity," she said.

Cybersecurity – a buzz word taken up by Nato and the EU as well – is also featuring among the proposed measures in the coming four years.

A new cybercrime centre will be set up at Europol, the bloc's police co-operation agency, and special "computer emergency response teams" will be available in 2012 in all member states.

A European crisis management system, looking at more co-ordinated risk assessments on natural disasters and linking it up to nuclear risk monitoring and terrorism, is also included in the plan, with the commission set to table concrete proposals next year.

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