Imitating the United States’ surveillance state methods will not make Europeans safer.
The European Union is going through the process of creating a counter-terorrism database that will compile information from EU countries regarding ongoing investigations, prosecutions and convictions of militants, including returning foreign fighters who joined terrorist groups abroad. The measure, called EUROJUST, was supported by France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and was established on September 5. The purported aim of the measure is to track suspicious individuals as they appear on the radar of national law enforcement agencies to more effectively address anti-terrorism prevention within the union. This is a laudable goal, particularly given the spate of terrorist attacks since the assault on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in 2015. However, the implementation of such a database also requires addressing fundamental questions of civil and human rights and the functioning of our rule of law.
In the United States, 9/11 caused a radical shift in the way the state perceived its role in terrorism prevention. A previous attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 proved unsuccessful and was shrugged off as an outlier. Following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to reinforce the law and order state. Most notably, this involved the mass surveillance of citizens through agencies such as the NSA, a practice that peaked under Presidents Bush and Obama. The revelations of NSA operator Edward Snowdon shed light on the practices of the U.S government and a wave of outrage made it possible for the U.S. legislature to repeal the so-called Patriot Act.
The perception remained in Europe that a lack of coordination, as well as a different legal and moral philosophy, made the surveillance state less likely or would not be as invasive. However, the United Kingdom had already championed CCTV surveillance and recording air travel passenger information was on the rise. Today, hardly any European city is free of CCTV surveillance and the Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive of the European Union makes the collection of this data mandatory for national governments. States also monitor social media, with some believing anonymity should be scrapped online, and prevent citizens from visiting certain websites, particularly if they’re believed to be associated with terorrism. The negative ramifications for free speech are evident, but a greater concern arises with regard to personal privacy.
The United States has created counter-terrorism databases, including the infamous no-fly list. The list registers potential terrorists who are barred from air travel. There is no established legal procedure to get on or off the list and officials do not need to justify their decisions or notify the citizens in question. Even senior politicians have been trapped by this system.
The EU’s counter-terrorism database is at risk of becoming a European no-fly list where due process is ignored under the pretence of added security. EU citizens should stand up against the EUROJUST database.