Europe Cracks Down on Bloggers, Not Terrorists

There is terrorism and there is Islamophobia. Of these two the latter is apparently the more serious misdemeanor. 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 America access to servers with international banking data that relate to terrorist organizations.

Last January, the French Inter-ministerial Committee on Racism and Anti-Semitism met 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 that 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.”

A report presented to the French government on 21 January 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 being 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), that 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.”

While Europe hopes that America will assist it in its crack-down 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.

On February 11, the European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an agreement between the European Commission and the American government ensuring that Washington has access to data to which it 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.

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 numerous leads for U.S. and European security services, according to the U.S. State Department. It 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 European Parliament, however, rejected the agreement between the European Commission and the American government with 378 votes against 196 and 31 abstentions. It stated that the agreement “violates the basic principles of data-protection law.” Martin Schulz, the German group 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 Malmström, 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.”

The “ambitious safeguards for privacy and protection” 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 that it did not have access to, the responsibility should be laid with the Schulzes and Hennis-Plasschaerts of the European Parliament.

To kappert and markpetens



The developments in France pose a threat to civil liberties in France and the EU, more so than using SWIFT data to track Islamic terrorists.  Not only has SWIFT data been used with result before, but international regulation of business activity and financial transaction has markedly increased in response to crime and terrorism, especially since late 2007. 




How exactly do you expect to "moonlight" in the stock market relying on SWIFT data?  Firstly, trading does not use or require SWIFT.  Secondly, there is too much data to be processed and acted upon by an individual.  Lastly, Goldman Sachs' proprietary "black box" programs already allow GS traders to clip incoming trades purely on the basis of computing speed and data processing.

To Dr. Belien RE: "Europe Cracks Down on Bloggers..."

Dear Dr. Belien,

The EU’s contradictory policies are the logical outcome of combining liberal, egalitarian and revolutionary ideologies.  The latter element is key here, as the proponents of anti–racism and anti–Americanism see themselves as revolutionaries.  Whereas liberty and equality are incompatible based on reason, it is the illogical emotion of revolt that produces these incoherent policies. 

financial data

Say I am some lowly paid CIA analyst working in the terrorist tracking program with access to SWIFT. Who will prevent me from "moonlighting" in the stock market?

Inevitable conclusion

It was already obvious for some time that many European governments do no longer respect the freedom of speech and/or opinon of their respective citizens.  Following the action of the European Parliament concerning SWIFT, the conclusion is inevitable that many European politicians value the "privacy rights" of terrorist suspects (w.r.t. their financial transfers) higher than the freedom of speech of their citizens. 

Another conclusion - but a totally trivial one - is that Kappert has shown to have heard of the expression "big brother".  He has also shown that he is incapable of applying it in an appropriate way to practical real-life situations. By implication, Kappert's 'little brother' is one who tells people what they can say, or not say, but protects 'bank secrecy' for terrorists. Such is a world of perverse values.

@ marcfrans

I don't quite understand what the purpose of the European refusal is. They should know that the NSA has the copies before they have them, so why say no? Grandstanding and breast thumping?
It is true that blog censoring becomes extremely important for securing their cosy jobs.

what do you expect

A Committee
on Racism and Anti-Semitism treats threads and comments on racism and anti-semitism and is not involved in a 'war against terror'. And spying on SWIFT data has not produced the capture of bin Ladin, nor is it a primary tool in the hunt of ETAs. To pick up few indicators during SWIFT processing does not justify a big-brother-like vigilance of millions of bank transfers. That's paranoid!