News Analysis

The European Parliament launched an unprecedented attack on civil liberties and the democratic rights of the citizens of the 25 European Union (EU) member countries last month by legalizing the surveillance of private citizens’ telephone conversations and e-mail in the name of “antiterrorism.”

The Parliament’s directive mandates that all telephone companies, Internet service providers and other communication service providers keep a database that includes the phone number, owner name, call source and destination of all landline phone calls, mobile phone calls, faxes, SMS (text messages), MMS (multimedia messages), e-mail and Internet site visits. The directive also requires the collection of data on “movement and position” of those making mobile phone calls — date, time and length of call — including their unanswered calls.

Supposedly, the content of phone calls or messages will not be recorded. However, the law provides for no independent evaluation of the procedures and no specific security safeguards to protect civil liberties. Further, the gathered data can be made available to the authorities without special warrants.

In practice, this means that all forms of communication in the EU by individuals, peoples’ organizations and parties will now be under permanent surveillance.

Telecommunications companies will be required to retain the data for a minimum of six months to a maximum of 24 months. However, member states may extend these time frames at will.

To add insult to injury, the cost of such massive data retention will be placed on the backs of the working people of each member country: the program is to be financed by government taxes.

The directive was passed Dec. 16 following a deal between the EU Council of Ministers and the Parliament’s two largest political parties, the EPP-ED (Conservatives) and the PSE (Socialists). In the parliamentary vote, 378 deputies voted in favor, 197 against and 30 abstained.

The UK has been the key force in pushing the measure, following the London subway bombings in of July 2005. Implementation is likely to take just 18 months, one of the shortest time periods on record for European-wide legislation.

The pretext for this directive being “urgent and necessary” — the 9/11 and London attacks — does not hold water. Similar measures were already on the drawing board as early as 1995 and were first elaborated on paper in 1998 in a Europol agreement that established the framework for all forms of legislation that would, in the name of “antiterrorism,” allow the free trampling on civil liberties and people’s rights.

Legalization of phone call and e-mail surveillance is part of a series of measures being introduced against “terrorism” which allow member states to use the data to identify and hunt down all suspects of “serious crimes.” This means that the state can legally track all communications under the pretext of “research of suspected criminal activity.”

However, the law does not specify what constitutes a “serious crime.” Once again, the threat of terrorism is being used to justify drastic measures that threaten to fundamentally abolish individual rights and make it easier for governments to spy on any progressive individual or mass people’s organization that acts or speaks against the imperialist new world order.

The real aim of the directive is to terrorize and intimidate people, to make them afraid to communicate with one another or to visit a political web site for fear of becoming a “suspect.”

Public outcry in Europe is rapidly building. Left and progressive parties, trade unions, civil liberties and lawyers’ associations have come out in full force, declaring their opposition to the directive.

What is needed is a powerful movement of resistance against this directive and others like it. It is clear that the reality being shaped by the ruling class of Europe and its anti-people policies means that democratic and social gains won by the struggles of the working class cannot be safeguarded within this unjust, exploitative system.

Laura Petricola ( writes from Athens, Greece.