European Union Justice, Freedom (sic) & Security Commissioner Franco Frattini yesterday turned up the volume on terror threats, ahead of the EU's adoption of "an ambitious counter terrorism package" next month. Terrorists, said Frattini, seek new technology, could deploy bioterrorism with devastating effect, and if they got hold of weapons of mass destruction "the consequences would be catastrophic."
Terrorists themselves have so far shown little sign of either a bioterror or nuclear holocaust delivery capability, confining themselves in the main to hopeless poison plots and loopy fantasies involving smoke detectors and similar, but as they say, often while they're saying "the consequences would be catastrophic", "it's only a matter of time before..." So here comes another raft of preventative measures that will allow us to "combat terrorism, while respecting fundamental rights." Which at least in Europe, they say quite a lot as well.
Frattini, who was speaking at the opening of the Security & Defence Agenda conference in Brussels, produced a litany of likely components to the forthcoming preventative package, which will include an EU Action Plan on Enhancing the Security of Explosives, "around 50 measures designed to improve the security of explosives", alongside "other measures [which] take into account the reality of today's technological world - making it criminal to spread information about bomb-making, including through websites."
Criminalisation is here a slight escalation on Frattini's earlier plans to block online bomb-making guides, but is unlikely to make any significant difference to the UK's anti-terror operations. Recent UK terrorism trials have included a high proportion based on charges of sharing or possessing information likely to be of use to terrorists, based on documents (many of doubtful effectiveness and provenance) freely available on the Internet, or in some cases even on Amazon. Frattini's new measures are however likely to spread the British approach, where increasingly guilt is dependent on who you are and why you might be in possession of a particular document, rather than merely on possession of that document, further into EU judicial systems.
Frattini's speech also covered wider access to EU Member States' fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration databases, more co-ordination to tackle Internet-enabled identity fraud, child abuse and terrorist propaganda, and the vexed matter of the sharing of financial and passenger data with the United States. Frattini claimed, improbably, successful resolutions to both these issues. In the case of SWIFT, the Brussels-based payments processing body which broke privacy rules by passing EU banking data to the US, the body will stop processing EU data in the US," in 2009, while in the case of Passenger Name Records (PNRs), the problem was 'solved' by the EU agreeing their export and planning the construction of its very own version of the US system.
As he called for us to think about "what we have in common [with the US] rather than the differences between our systems" however, Frattini seems not to have got around to mentioning the current state of EU-US negotiations on the Visa Waiver Programme. These, where the EU wants the US to extend the programme to the more recent EU entrants, while the US seems more intent on extending the range of the data it obtains about incoming passengers, seem poised on the brink of collapse. Time for another cave-in from Brussels, perhaps? (full Frattini speech) ®