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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Europe proposes new finance rules to target terrorists

Officials plan new rules on banking and the sale of firearms but critics say the plans will do little to tackle terrorism

The flight of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect for the November 2015 Paris attacks, highlighted the failures of intelligence sharing. / AFP PHOTO / POLICE NATIONALE / DSK
The flight of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect for the November 2015 Paris attacks, highlighted the failures of intelligence sharing. / AFP PHOTO / POLICE NATIONALE / DSK

The European Commission wants to give police agencies across the 28-nation bloc greater powers to investigate the bank accounts of suspected terrorists following a series of cross-border blunders in intelligence sharing.

The proposals are included as part of an anti-terrorism package aimed at tightening rules on identity cards, the sale of firearms and to reduce document fraud. It includes a number of issues likely to stoke privacy concerns by allowing authorities access to personal information of individuals in other member states.

The commission said that police forces will have access to bank account information on a case-by-case basis but existing data laws would allow only limited information about the identity of the bank account holder.

The proposals highlight conflicting priorities for the European Union decision makers: the increased pressure to act following a series of terrorist attacks in the continent but also concerns over the use of personal information following the leaks of 2013 by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.

The failures in intelligence sharing were highlighted by the escape of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 people dead, who was stopped near the French-Belgian border shortly after the attack.

He was allowed to go free because his name did not show up as a potential terrorist but it later emerged that the Belgian authorities had failed to update his file to show that he was under surveillance. He was caught four months later after a shootout with police in Brussels.

The European policing organisation Europol collates and shares information from member states but the task is complicated by countries having different data sharing rules. Senior law enforcement officials have told The National of difficulties in sharing information with some countries who have different rules on the use of sensitive intelligence.

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The proposals by the European Commission – which include the inclusion of digital fingerprints on identity cards – are likely to prove controversial in countries like Germany, which sets high bar on the sharing of personal data.

The commission, the EU’s bureaucracy, wants to get rid of paper documents because they are too easy to forge. Five member states - Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Austria and Sweden – either do not have identity cards, or their use is optional. They will not be forced to introduce them under the proposals.

The proposed measures would not prevent attacks and violated civil rights, said German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht. “Even fingerprints can be forged and terrorist assassins and their henchmen regularly obtain weapons and financial means without presenting an identity card,” he said.

Other proposals include allowing national police forces easier access to telephone and email data held by other countries. The commission said almost two-thirds of crimes where electronic evidence is held in another country cannot be investigated or prosecuted under current rules.

“By giving law enforcement access to crucial pieces of financial information, we are closing another loophole being exploited by terrorists,” said Julian King, the EU’s security commissioner. Along with other measures “we are further squeezing the space in which terrorists operate.”

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