European parliament votes against uncontrolled cross-border forfeiture

With agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, Europe moves a step closer to Big Brother.

The European Parliament voted on Thursday to delete an article on the abduction of persons in another member state without its technical support. The article is part of a draft agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters between the member states of the European Union. A majority, however, voted in favor of cross-border interceptions, which are carried out with the consent and support of the member state concerned.

Antonio Di Pietro (Italy, Group of European Liberals, Democrats and Reformists) had requested the deletion of the controversial article. According to Di Pietro "this article puts us in a legal minefield, with some member states wanting to conduct fully independent investigations in other member states, in the interest of their national security (and through the use of secret agents)?), thereby avoiding the time-consuming task of obtaining the consent of the legal authorities of the other country." This could, according to Di Pietro, "to legalize the activities of the secret services, which take place in a gray area" led. (see also: Cross-border interception leads into legal minefield)

Other political parties agreed with Di Pietro. Fracesco Fiori of the European Christian Democrats warned against a "orwellian Big Brother". The majority of the parliament voted for the deletion of the article. The Parliament also adopted an amendment limiting the validity of the agreement strictly to criminal offenses. Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, responsible for Justice and Home Affairs, defended the article that Parliament had voted to delete. Er sei sehr sorgfaltig ausgearbeitet worden, um die Effektivitat von strafrechtlichen Ermittlungen zu gewahrleisten.

The Greens in the European Parliament criticized the majority that voted to allow cross-border interception of telecommunications, provided that the technical and legal support of the other country is obtained. "By allowing cross-border interception of telecommunications, this legislation lays the legal groundwork for gross eavesdropping in the EU", said Ilka Schroder (Germany), "which will fully legalize a European eavesdropping system in the style of the transatlantic spy system Echelon".

The opinion of the European Parliament is not binding. The final decision will be taken by the European Justice and Home Affairs Council. It is quite possible that the wording of the agreement will be changed by the Council, as the negotiations on this matter are still going on. Das Europaische Parlament wird dann allerdings keine Moglichkeit haben, uber die revidierte Fang nocheinmal abzustimmen.