Sunday, December 25, 2005

Atlantic Patriot Acts: What? Denmark worried?

Legal anti-terror measures were passed on both sides of the Atlantic in the aftermath of the 9/11. While the US system Congress saw through the Patriot Act, their counterparts in the European Union seized the chance to present an already prepared reform proposal for strengthening of the European Union cooperation on police and legal matters. And while the Patriot Act in the following years seemed to be a case of almost more worrying and consternation on the European than the American left, nobody on the European front seemed really to worry about the fairly unrelated but deifnitely so defended new steps taken within the EU network.

The single most dazzling new legal toy was to be the European Union Arrest Warrant and - especially - the concomitant Surrender Procedures. Astonishingly, this aborts one of the basic common sensical principles of politics and law: that a citizen of a given country shall be protected by his or her country and not be surrendered to another country against his or her will. Incredibly, the Patriot Act drew a lot of fire among European Union citizens while these provisions passed without much attention. The potential level of legal assurance in Scandinavia was thus at once lowered from "acceptable" to "whatever goes in Greece".

While the Patriot Act in the States was just extended if only for a month, there are no provisions for expiration in the European initiatives. The short extension of course only means that the battle over the Act is just postponed a bit as well described in this AP/Washington Post piece by Laurie Kellman - and the outcome is not given. But the Europeans' strongest tradition for critiquing and productively mistrusting power seems to be guided more against the US and the US institutions rather than their own. A new Danish Gallup poll, carried out for DK newspaper Berlingske Tidende points to an overwhelming welcoming approach to a set of new Danish anti-terror measures:

* 85% "probably" (25) or "definitely" (60) support the granting of access without consent or notification to passenger lists for all international Danish flights.
* 69% "probably" (23) or "definitely" (46) support wider powers for the Danish FBI equivalent, PET, to gather information from 3rd party public institutions without notification, consent or asking a judge.
* 85% "probably" (19) or "definitely" (66) support the widening of CCTV monitoring of public spaces and traffic circulation.
* 73% "probably" (25) or "definitely" (48) support the demand for tele-companies to gather, keep and render to PET information about and including telephone calls and internet traffic.

Asked whether they are worried that these initiatives might lead to a "surveillance society" Gallup's respondent's show that 39% are "not worried at all", 34% are "only a little worried", 16% are "somewhat worried" and finally, 9% are "very worried".

Given the dismal track record of separations of powers, independent review systems, and checks and balances within the Danish police and legal system this level of instinctual trust is potentially pretty worrying.
Of course, in either case, a functional and acceptable balance must be found between the needs of the security system and the civil liberties of the citizens. But hey, why worry about cozy Denmark when you can point your finger at those crazy Americans?

As it turns out the Danish Lawyer's Council does indeed worry a bit. And they should know: the fairly illiberal tendency in Denmark to respect the system before the citizen has grown worse over the last decade as laws aimed at particular groups (organized crime, for-profit-sects) have meant that police has gotten new measures with which to deal with all crime. The new anti-terror measures can, in the same lead, be applied to anyone as they widen the system's operating conditions in general, not in the particular tied to suspicions or terror related activities. Spokesperson Sys Rovsing Koch points out that the initiatives weaken control with the police in a number of ways - including moving a lot of investigative activity from the police proper to the PET which has much less external oversight:
The Council warns against letting the PET itself carry out policing because it will lead to secrecy, a lack of possibilities to properly defend indicted persons as well as the necessary court oversight. 'The proposition is a step on the way toward more secret police in Denmark. It will weaken attorney access to cases and court oversight, and so weaken the rule of law ('retssikkerhed') for all citizens. Lately we have seen that politicians are willing to loosen both attorney and court access to and control with cases. The tendency started with the socalled 'biker law' in 2003, and already then we warned that this could become a slippery slope. We are moving further down that slope with the government's action plan against terror'.
But, of course, without an instinctual - productive - mistrust in government the Danish public seems set to ignore the warnings of the professionals.

EDIT (Feb 12): As always the US media are doing their job, while there has been almost debate whatsoever in Denmark.

No comments: