– European Union ministers discuss proposed anti-terrorism measure called “Passenger Name Record”
– New anti-terrorism proposal follows recent terror arrests in Barcelona, Spain
– Concerns abound due to possible civil liberties’ violations
– Europe remains prime target for terrorist attacks
In the latest in a series of anti-terrorism measures, European Union (EU) ministers are set to announce stepped-up measures aimed at non-EU travelers entering and departing the 27-member bloc, including the collection of finger prints and other biometric information. The new measure proposed for the year 2008 calls on EU authorities to collect at least 19 pieces of personal information from airline passengers to include: names, telephone numbers, email addresses, and passport numbers.
In the wake of recent terror arrests and deepening concerns, Europe continues to be a prime target for terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of the July 2005 London transport attacks and two recent failed attacks in June 2007, EU officials have been steadily ramping up anti-terror legislation. Specifically, as we previously reported, in September 2007, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana took the first step toward making significant improvements in EU anti-terror policy by appointing Gilles de Kerchove d’Ousselghem as the EU’s new Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
Additionally, the arrests of 12 Pakistanis and 2 Indians on January 19, 2008 in Barcelona, Spain, and subsequent findings the cell is connected to al-Qaeda and had planned multiple attacks across the EU, has led to renewed concerns Europe is ripe for a large-scale terrorist attack .
Barcelona Cell Planned Attacks Across the EU
As we previously reported, on January 19, 2008, Spanish authorities arrested 14 suspected Islamist terrorists residing in Spain’s Raval neighborhood in Barcelona (Previous Report). Police arrested the men and raided several apartments, a mosque, and a nearby bakery in the northeastern Catalonia region.
Following the arrests and discovery of bomb making materials and timing devices, Spanish Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, announced the individuals, “belonged to a well-organized group that had gone a step beyond radicalization.”
As the investigation continues, European authorities have revealed the suspects were a part of an al-Qaeda cell planning attacks across the EU to include: Spain, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. According to an informant, the cell planned three attacks in Spain, one in Germany, and others in France, Britain, and Portugal and possible links exist between the Barcelona group and suspected extremists in neighboring EU countries.
EU Proposes New Anti-Terrorism Passenger Screening Process
In the wake of the Barcelona arrests and increasing concerns across the region, on January 25, 2008, EU justice and interior ministers met in Slovenia to discuss plans to implement new anti-terrorism measures. Topping the agenda is a highly controversial plan to install checks on airline travelers flying into and out of the EU. Specifically, the proposed “European Passenger Name Record” (PNR) would mirror an already installed Australian version and would seek to collect personal identification information from non-EU citizens. Data points would be collected, inputted into an electronic database, and analyzed in an attempt to identify and deter would-be terrorists from entering the EU. Airline travelers would enter a minimum of 19 pieces of personal information to include: name, telephone number, email address, and passport number. EU officials also believe the pre-registration system could prove beneficial to passengers by allowing customs officers ample time to process passengers more quickly during border controls.
European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini announced the idea in the summer of 2007 claiming the European PNR was “absolutely necessary.” However, in recent months the proposal has been met with opposition as civil liberties’ advocates believe the data collection violates passengers’ privacy.
In light of recent arrests, it is evident Europe continues to face a significant threat of terrorist attacks. Further, despite continual efforts to crackdown on Islamist extremism within EU borders and recent successes in anti-terrorism raids, trials and increasingly subsequent convictions, Islamist extremists continue to operate in and target Europe.
As we previously reported, Islamic radicalization continues to be problematic in a number of EU member states (Previous Report). Specifically, ethnic minorities resident in the EU remain highly susceptible to Islamic radicalization leading to homegrown extremist terrorism.
EU officials appear committed to counter terrorism on their soil. However, despite renewed efforts to protect the borders, such as the PNR initiative, we remain doubtful anti-terrorism measures will serve to better prevent against future terrorist targeting of EU member states, specifically as ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to incite Islamist extremism.