EU adopts plan to fight terrorism under open-borders agreement

European Union countries will create new IT systems and networks to integrate their management of cross-border travel and to jointly fight terrorism under a new five-year Action Plan for Freedom, Justice and Security launched today.

The European Commission, which is the executive office of the European Union, approved the plan for 10 strategic policy priorities, including joint efforts to fight terrorism, reduce crime and protect privacy. The ideas are derived from the Hague Program developed by European leaders last November to spearhead policies through 2010.

Over the next five years, the "Schengen Acquis" rules governing movement of people across internal borders within the European Union will be fully integrated among the member states, the commission said. Schengen Acquis, or Schengen Agreement, refers to the Luxemburg town where some European states first signed agreements eliminating internal borders.

"This implies the development of a new information system [Schengen Information System II-SIS II], which will become operational in 2007, after thorough evaluation procedures," the commission's press release stated.

In addition, the EU is developing an integrated management system for external borders, which will be coordinated by the Border Management Agency of Warsaw. It will be tested in 2007. As part of this, European Union travel documents will include biometric identifiers starting this year.

In 2007, the commission plans to propose creation of a common application center for visas, "which could be a first step towards a future European common consular service," the press release said.

Several IT proposals affect anti-terrorism efforts as well. A joint plan will be released this year for protecting critical infrastructures, including the creation of a Critical Infrastructure Warning Information Network to assist member states exchange information on shared threats and best practices.

To aid in prosecuting terrorists, the plan will promote cooperation and information exchange relevant to the investigation of terrorist activities.

To reduce terrorist financing, the EU intends to initiate measures to "aim at enhancing transparency of legal entities and information exchange among relevant actors at national, EU and international levels."

Cross-border investigations of crime will be facilitated by information exchange among law enforcement authorities in different member states. The commission is developing a proposal to that effect for release later this year.

In addition, the European Union "needs to strike the right balance between privacy and security," as it pursues information sharing, the plan stated. The commission intends to develop and adopt a proposal to establish "adequate safeguards for the transfer of personal data" before year's end. A separate proposal will aim at regulating privacy and data retention in connection with criminal records.

"We live in a world where threats to security and personal freedom are ever present in citizens' mind," wrote Commission Vice President Franco Frattini in a press release announcing the plan. "In a globalised world no member state can respond effectively to these threats alone. But European co-operation offers new possibilities for success."

The European Commission's announcement did not include budget figures for implementing the plan.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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