UK Presidency attacks European Convention of Human Rights

By EDRi · September 8, 2005

In order to convince the European Parliament of the need for mandatory data retention, the UK presidency of the EU has challenged the validity of the European Convention of Human Rights. The UK Home Office secretary, Mr Clarke, basically told the European Parliament on 7 September that the 50 year old convention was outdated. Talking about the need “to balance important rights for individuals against the collective right for security”, Clarke said: “The view of my Government is that this balance is not right for the circumstances which we now face – circumstances very different from those faced by the founding fathers of the European Convention on Human Rights – and that it needs to be closely examined in that context.”

Clarke was specifically referring to the difficulty under the Convention of deporting people suspected of being involved with terrorism, but obviously thought it was acceptable to attack the general principle of protecting citizens against their governments by granting them inalienable minimum rights and freedoms.

A large majority of liberals, social democrats and greens in the European Parliament responded in outrage. The influential Liberal leader Graham Watson told Reuters: “Human rights are indivisible. Freedom and security are not alternatives, they go hand-in-hand … Much as the public may dislike it, suspected terrorists have rights.” Watson also quoted criticism by human rights lawyer Cherie Booth — wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair — of the country’s hardline anti-terror measures. “To … invoke a form of summary justice would in the words of the lawyer Cherie Booth cheapen our right to call ourselves a civilised society,” he said.

Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice addressed the Parliament in a much calmer way on the same topic. “We should never be tired to repeat that when working on security we have to keep a balance between law enforcement activities and the protection of other fundamental rights.” Earlier, the spokesperson of Frattini told the Berliner Zeitung the Commission would finally launch its proposal for a directive on data retention on 21 September. But Frattini created more ambivalence about the timeline in his speech: “And we have to balance prosecution activities and privacy. We will consider this both in the proposal on data retention and in the presentation of the first comprehensive proposal on data protection in the third pillar scheduled for October.”

The ministers of Justice and Home Affairs are meeting today and tomorrow in Newcastle, UK, for an informal JHA Council. Data retention is high on the agenda. According to the first reports about the meeting today, it is becoming unlikely that the ministers will reach a unanimous agreement on 12 October, especially because of the differences in opinion about cost reimbursement for the industry. Today industry was heard for the first time, and short statements given by representatives of EuroISPA, GSM Europe, ECCA and ETNO, the European associations of cable and telecom operators respectively. Their response is not positive. Though they profusely claim utter willingness to fight any kind of crime, especially terrorism, they find most of the demands of the ministers completely unreasonable, such as registering location data during mobile communication and registering failed caller-attempts.

Given the attitude of the UK presidency, it is no surprise that civil rights advocates are not invited in Newcastle. They were only given a chance to respond to a consultation organised in September last year by the European Commission. European Digital Rights and Privacy International used this occasion to produce a thorough legal analysis. EDRI and PI conclude that the proposed framework decision on data retention is invasive, illegal, illegitimate and produces illusory gains. The conclusions were supported by 90 civil rights organisations across Europe, the United States and other countries around the world. These points are summarised in the ongoing petition against data retention, that has already been signed by almost 42.000 people.

Speech by Charles Clarke (07.09.2005)

Speech by Franco Frattini (07.09.2005)

Britain calls for change to European Convention on Human Rights (08.09.2005)

Reuters: EU must accept some erosion of civil rights – Clarke (07.09.2005)

Brüssel will Abhörregeln vereinheitlichen (01.09.2005)

Costs hold up EU accord on telecoms anti-terror measures UPDATE (09.08.2005)

Draft of the European Commission directive proposal (20.07.2005)

PI and EDRI analysis (15.09.2004)[347]=x-347-103020