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23rd Jan 2022

MEP calls for impact assessment of EU counter-terrorism policies

Costly high-tech surveillance and data gathering programmes put in place all over the EU for counter-terrorism purposes have never been thoroughly evaluated in terms of effectiveness and proportionality, one leading MEP has said, just as in neighbouring Russia, an alleged suicide bomber has claimed dozens of lives in Moscow's international airport.

Russian officials on Monday (24 January) were quick in labelling the deadly blast at the Domodedovo airport as the work of "terrorists", with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowing to track down the culprits and ordering increased security in all airports.

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According to local media, more than 30 people have died and over 100 were injured when an "almighty explosion" rocked the baggage claim area in the arrivals hall.

With Russia's limited parliamentary scrutiny, counter-terrorism measures such as the war on Chechnya mostly rely on Europe's watchdogs and the human rights court for some justice to be made.

But inside the EU itself, ever since the attacks on the US in 2001, counter-terrorism measures have been progressively beefed up with virtually no real impact assessments done as to the financial costs and the toll on civil liberties that they entail.

"The European Parliament has been constantly calling for a thorough evaluation of EU counter-terrorism measures. Why is it that in other areas, such as transport or regional policy, it is normal to evaluate results of the policy, but in counter-terrorism everything remains secret?" Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld told this website. Ms in't Veld is drafting the parliament's position on this matter, with a first discussion due Tuesday.

An evaluation carried out by the European Commission in July 2010 was labelled as "extremely modest" by the Dutch politician because no results were included in the document.

As a result, MEPs are likely to call for the establishment of an independent panel of experts ranging from the security world to budget and civil liberties NGOs, so as to look into the "overall cost" of counter-terrorism.

"It is not only state budgets that are affected, considerable costs and administrative burdens are also put on airlines, banks, telecommunication companies - who all have legal requirements to comply with in terms of counter-terrorism policies. What we want to know is if all this is really necessary," she explains.

So far, no programme was been put in place after 2001 - such as video surveillance, data storage of phone and email records of all customers, not just criminal suspects - was ever rolled back or deemed as too intrusive or useless by the governments. But with several successful or foiled attacks ever since, more scanning, screening and data mining programs were introduced, some of which were extended beyond fighting terrorism.

In its analysis, the European Commission speaks of €745 million set aside "to support policies to counter terrorism and organised crime", but the real figures if the private sector and national governments are taken into account rises much higher than that. Under EU's research programme, for instance, €1.4 billion are earmarked solely for security research.

"It is fair that security firms try to make a profit out of it, but we should be informed and aware of how the taxpayer's money is spent," Ms in't Veld says.

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