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September 11 one year on Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
'Threat' to freedom
WTC burning
Many new laws have been brought in since the attacks
Jon Silverman

No event of recent years has had more profound implications for global civil liberties than the attack on the United States on 11 September.

In North America and throughout Europe, from the Iberian peninsula to Russia, a raft of legislation was rushed into force strengthening state powers on phone-tapping, police surveillance, encryption technology, detention of migrants, internet controls and freedom of movement.

The Canadian writer, Michael Ignatieff, observed: "The atrocity has put the human rights movement on the defensive, a victim of the priority now accorded to national security."

It is plain that a new landscape is being mapped out

But for the agencies charged with protecting the state, 11 September was such a shattering blow that it would have been inconceivable if fresh and expanded powers had not been demanded.

When Sir Stephen Lander, the outgoing head of the British intelligence service MI5, publicly acknowledges failures of security and both the CIA and FBI are forced to rethink their relationship for the sake of defence of the homeland, it is plain that a new landscape is being mapped out.

State emergency

In the UK, the most visible evidence of government concern was the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act which, among other powers, authorised the indefinite detention of foreign-born terrorist suspects who could neither be prosecuted - because of lack of evidence - nor deported because of the risk of torture or death in their country of origin.

Although the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has endorsed the UK Government's view that a state of emergency existed and that detentions were justified on grounds of national security, its ruling that the act breached the European Convention of Human Rights has given ministers a headache with which they will have to deal in the autumn.

Guantanamo prisoner
Detentions have sparked civil liberties fears
It has been pointed out that Britain's legislative response to 11 September was more draconian than elsewhere in Europe but this ignores at least two factors.

The first is the apparent scale of fundamentalist activity in the UK which has grown over the last half dozen years since a crackdown in France led to many Muslim radicals, especially of Algerian origin, crossing the Channel to take advantage of a more relaxed security climate.

Restrictive security

Incidentally, it appears that France, unlike Britain, deported some to their home countries without worrying too much about the consequences for their safety.

The second is the relatively little attention which has been paid to moves within the European Union, led largely by Germany, to build a more restrictive security apparatus which some find alarming.

And within the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council, Germany has been promoting the idea of a Europe-wide register, containing information culled from visa applications, on all nationals from other parts of the world living in the EU.

Currently, only two states, Luxembourg and Germany itself, have such a register and the civil rights newsletter, Statewatch, describes the German version as, in effect, "an intelligence file on individuals, their families and their activities".

Caution urged

But the real fear is that, as happened in the 1980s in response to the activities of the Red Army Faction, such "profiling " as it is known, will be used not only as a means of identifying terrorists but also as an aid to routine criminal prosecutions - with a bias against aliens and ethnic minorities.

Amongst states urging caution about proceeding too quickly down this path, the Netherlands is the most active.

Though Germany has been making the running, both the Spanish Government, during its EU presidency, and the current holders of the presidency, Denmark, have supported moves which would involve the security screening of all immigrants.

While human rights groups suspect the worst of motives for such plans, it should be borne in mind that al-Qaeda used Europe as a platform from which to launch its audacious attack on the United States precisely because of variations and flaws in EU jurisdictions which the terrorists were able to exploit with impunity for several years.

New York despatches





See also:

01 Jun 02 | Americas
27 Feb 02 | Americas
11 Jan 02 | Americas
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