EU seeks new tools to fight terrorism

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BRUSSELS, Nov 6 (Reuters) The EU's 27 states must collect data on air travellers and crack down on militant Web sites to better fight terrorism, the bloc's executive Commission will say today after a new warning on the risk posed by al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda remains the major threat to the European Union and a fresh attack by Islamist militants is likely, the bloc's anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said yesterday, urging the EU to step up its fight with new tools.

The European Commission will press EU states to collect 19 pieces of personal data on travellers flying to or from the bloc, including phone number, e-mail address, payment details and travel agent, a draft seen by Reuters shows.

The plan mirrors a scheme put in place by the United States to collect Passenger Name Record (PNR) information after the 9/11 attacks and is criticised by a number of lawmakers and rights groups who say it breaches privacy rights.

The data, sent by airlines at least 24 hours before departure, would be kept for 13 years and also be used to draw up statistics.

In a separate proposal, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini will also urge governments to punish with criminal offences all public incitement to terrorism, as well as recruiting and training, especially on the Internet.

''The Internet serves ... as one of the principal boosters of the processes of radicalisation and recruitment and also serves as a source of information on terrorist means and methods, thus functioning as a virtual training camp,'' the draft text says.

De Kerchove urged the bloc to go further by publicising its policies on human rights and integration of migrants on the Internet to counter radical propaganda.

The European Commission will not propose blocking access to Web sites giving bomb instructions, although Frattini said in an interview in September that would be necessary. Civil liberties groups had opposed the plan, calling it censorship.

In an effort to assuage campaigners, the proposal specifies that this new measure may not be used to restrict the spread of information for scientific, academic or reporting purposes.

But a number of EU lawmakers and civil liberties advocates nevertheless oppose the package of proposals, which also includes an early warning system on lost and stolen explosives.

''We are weakening the position of the individual citizen vis-a-vis the authorities,'' EU lawmaker Sophia in 't Veld told Reuters, saying that over the past few years authorities had consistently gained more powers to control citizens without proper privacy protection or democratic control.

''That is very worrying,'' the Dutch liberal lawmaker said.

The proposals need to be adopted unanimously by EU states to become law. The European Parliament is only consulted and has no decision-making power on these matters.

REUTERS MP AS0611

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