There is terrorism and there is Islamophobia. Of these two the latter is apparently the more serious offense. Europe is introducing draconian measures to monitor the internet for so-called “racism,” but at the same time the European Parliament has decided to deny The United States access to servers with international banking data that relate to terrorist organizations.
While Europe hopes that America will assist it in its crackdown on “racist” websites and blogs, it is less keen to assist America in its battle against terrorism. In this context, civil-liberties and privacy concerns are invoked to deny the U.S. continued access to financial information from SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), an international banking consortium, headquartered in Brussels, which processes inter-bank data. SWIFT processes millions of transactions daily between banks and other financial institutions worldwide. It holds the data of some 8,000 banks and operates in 200 countries.
Tracking the funding of terror groups globally has been a priority for Washington since the 9/11 2001 attacks. So far, access to the SWIFT data has produced more than 1,500 reports and countless leads for U.S. and European security services, according to the U.S. State Department. Data from SWIFT helped capture the mastermind of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202 people, and helped prevent a similar attack in Bangkok in 2003. It also helped thwart the 2006 Heathrow Airport liquid-bomb plot and a terror attack on Barcelona.
The French Inter-ministerial Committee on Racism and Anti-Semitism met last January to discuss measures to ban from the Internet those websites deemed by public moralists to be “racist.” The French government is acting in accordance with resolutions of the European Parliament which urge the member states of the European Union to “combat racism and xenophobia.” The French authorities are currently working on “a plan of action at the national and international levels, mobilizing public authorities, Internet operators and special-interest groups” to combat “the expression of racist commentary on the Internet.”
The European Parliament, however, rejected the agreement between the European Commission and the American government 378 votes to 196, with 31 abstentions. The European Parliament stated that the agreement “violates the basic principles of data- protection law.” Martin Schulz, the German leader of the Socialists in the Parliament, said: “We want a better deal with proper safeguards for people's privacy.” Jeanine Hennis-Plaesschaert, the Dutch spokesperson for the Liberals, said that EU “flouts its own laws on fundamental rights” if it “continues to outsource its security services to the United States without reciprocity.” She denounced the “pressure, blackmail and lobbying of the U.S.” Cecilia MalmstrÃ¶m, the Swedish European Commissioner for Home Affairs, had to promise the Parliament that the new agreement would include “very ambitious safeguards for privacy and data protection.”
A report presented to the French government on January 21 recommends “an increased action from the Central Office for the Fight against Crime in the Information Technology and Communications Sectors (French acronym OCLCTIC), an organism that collects data on illicit content online. It also recommends an “improved system of information among public authorities; and a systematization of the sharing of information between the various parties.”
The report acknowledges that information via the Internet is often international, with some French bloggers hosted in foreign countries, such as the United States. The report notes that “the international dimensions of the Internet and the different laws and cultures on the question of racism are used by some to escape their responsibilities.” Hence, it proposes that the French and American public authorities work out a plan to combat Internet racism. This plan must also “allow for the participation of national and international NGOs involved in the fight against racism on the Internet.” In the fight against “racism,” civil-liberties and privacy concerns are only of secondary importance.
One of these NGOs is the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples (French acronym MRAP), which monitors “racism” in France. Last January, the MRAP presented a 154-page report [pdf], listing more than 2,000 URLs (including 1,000 blogs) deemed to be “racist”, “racialist”, “ethno-differentialist”, “extreme-right”, “anti-Semitic,” “Islamophobic,” “homophobic,” “ultra-Zionist,” etc. The website of the American scholar Daniel Pipes is listed on page 129 as a “neoconservative” site which “develops Islamophobic themes.”
The European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected on February 11 an agreement between the European Commission and the American government ensuring that Washington has access to data to which the Commission had direct access until SWIFT's American servers were moved to Europe at the end of 2009. The SWIFT servers are located in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The “ambitious safeguards for privacy and protection,” however, seem only to apply to the enemies of the West, not to the right of Europe's own citizens to express their opinions in their blogs. On the one hand the European Parliament is pressurizing the governments of the EU member states to limit the freedom of expression of their own citizens; on the other hand it is protecting the “privacy rights” of terrorists who transfer money globally to fund their operations. If there is a terror attack in the near future, which the U.S. could have prevented with data from SWIFT to which it did not have access, the responsibility should be laid with the Schulzes and Hennis-Plasschaerts of the European Parliament.