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Sarah speaking about protection of personal data

September 23, 2008 12:30 PM
By Sarah Ludford in European Parliament

Mr President, there are fundamental flaws in how the EC is currently proceeding in justice and home affairs, notably the lack of fully transparent and democratic law-making in the absence of the Lisbon Treaty (I too regret that Mr Jouyet showed his indifference to our views by leaving, whether he apologized or not) and, secondly, the lack of balance and respect for fundamental rights. Both are, unfortunately, fully on display here in the two measures being discussed.

The criminalizing of 'public provocation to commit terrorism' - a vague term - risks casting a chilling effect on free speech when the criminal offence of incitement, which we already have, is perfectly adequate.

The other measure gives only weak protection for personal data exchanged ostensibly for law-enforcement purposes, but with massive loopholes. I can inform the House that, in the UK, the Data Retention Directive - that landmark achievement of the UK presidency three years ago - is being used to give hundreds of non-law-enforcement agencies access to personal contact details. Local councils use it to check up if parents have lied about living in the catchment area of a popular school - which might be naughty, but is not a major crime.

It is disgraceful the way that interior ministers have left a space for Europhobes like the UK Independence Party and British Conservatives to castigate the whole EU effort on cross-border crime. We know that a large majority of the European public, including in the UK, supports EU action to catch criminals and terrorists, such as through the European arrest warrant. However, UKIP and the Tories, who claim to put a high priority on law and order, give a cheery wave goodbye to any criminal who escapes across the Channel. We should not allow them to get away with their propaganda, especially because interior ministers are doing their very best to undermine public support for police cooperation by their blinkered approach which gives insufficient attention to civil liberties, be this protection from invasions of privacy or the rights of defendants.

EU Governments have stupidly allowed Mr Batten and his ilk a head of steam over the issue of recognition of judgments in absentia by their failure, led by the UK Government, to strengthen defense rights. Talk about an unholy alliance between the Europhobes and a spineless Labour Government!

Lastly, I want to ask where the justice ministers are in this whole exercise. They need to get a grip on the interior ministers' circus and start to construct a real European area of freedom, security and justice. We need the Lisbon Treaty to get transparency and democracy into this project, and quickly, before the European elections.