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EU's secret network to spy on anti-capitalist protesters

European leaders have ordered police and intelligence agencies to co-ordinate their efforts to identify and track the
anti-capitalist demonstrators whose violent protests at recent international summits culminated in the shooting dead by police of a young protester at the Genoa G8 meeting last month.

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

20 August 2001

The new measures clear the way for protesters travelling
between European Union countries to be subjected to an
unprecedented degree of surveillance.

Confidential details of decisions taken by Europe's interior
ministers at talks last month show that the authorities will use
a web of police and judicial links to keep tabs on the activities
and whereabouts of protesters. Europol, the EU police
intelligence-sharing agency based in The Hague that was set
up to trap organised criminals and drug traffickers, is likely to
be given a key role.

The plan has alarmed civil rights campaigners, who argue that
personal information on people who have done no more than
take part in a legal demonstration may be entered into a
database and exchanged.

Calls for a new Europe-wide police force to tackle the threat
from hardline anti-capitalists were led after the Genoa summit
by Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schily. Germany has long
pushed for the creation of a Europe-wide crime-fighting agency
modelled on the FBI.

Germany's EU partners rejected Mr Schily's call, judging that a
new force to combat political protest movements was too
controversial, but ministers agreed to extend the measures that
can be taken under existing powers. Central to the new push is
the secretive Article 36 committee (formerly known as the K4
committee) and the Schengen Information System, both of
which allow for extensive contact and data sharing between
police forces.

Under the new arrangements, European governments and
police chiefs will:

* Set up permanent contact points in every EU country to
collect, analyse and exchange information on protesters;

* Create a pool of liaison officers before each summit staffed by
police from countries from which "risk groups" originate;

* Use "police or intelligence officers" to identify "persons or
groups likely to pose a threat to public order and security";

* Set up a task force of police chiefs to organise "targeted
training" on violent protests.

The new measures will rely on two main ways of exchanging
police information. The Schengen Information System, which
provides basic information, and a supporting network called
Sirene - Supplementary Information Request at the National
Entry. This network (of which Britain is a member) allows
pictures, fingerprints and other information to be sent to police
or immigration officials once a suspect enters their territory.
Each country already has a Sirene office with established links
to EU and Nordic law enforcement agencies.

Civil liberties campaigners are dismayed by the plan. Tony
Bunyan, editor of Statewatch magazine, said: "This will give
the green light to Special Branch and MI5 to put under
surveillance people whose activities are entirely democratic."

Nicholas Busch, co-ordinator of the Fortress Europe network
on civil liberties issues, added: "People who have done nothing
against the law ought to be able to feel sure they are not under
surveillance ... By criminalising whole political and social
scenes you fuel confrontation and conflict."

Thomas Mathieson, professor of sociology of law at the
University of Oslo, said police could have access to "very
private information" about people's religion, sex lives and
politics. "It is a very dangerous situation from the civil liberties
point of view," he said.



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