Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wiretapping in Europe

Via Ask Me Later, the story of how measures to wiretap potential terrorists are going great guns in Europe:
ROME (AP) -- In Europe, Big Brother is listening - and being allowed to hear more and more.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the terrorist bombings that followed in Madrid and London, authorities across the continent are getting more powers to electronically eavesdrop, and meeting less apparent opposition than President Bush did over his post-9/11 wiretapping program.

As part of a package of European Union anti-terrorism measures, the European Parliament in December approved legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone date and Internet logs for a minimum of six months in case they are needed for criminal investigations.

In Italy, which experts agree is the most wiretapped Western democracy, a report to parliament in January by Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said the number of authorized wiretaps more than tripled from 32,000 in 2001 to 106,000 last year.

Italy passed a terrorism law after the July 7 subway bombings in London that opened the way for intelligence agencies to eavesdrop if an attack is feared imminent. Only approval from a prosecutor - not a judge - is required, but the material gleaned cannot be used as evidence in court.

Similar laws have been approved in France and the Netherlands or proposed elsewhere in Europe, leading to fears by some that the terrorist threat is giving authorities a pretext to abuse powers.
How does Ask Me Later describe this state of affairs? “Amazingly, European Countries Don’t Want to Get Blown Up.”

On many issues, we applaud the more libertarian political culture of the United States, and scoff at the authoritarianism that is so common in Europe. Hate speech laws are a good example of what we think wrong with Europe.

So it is tempting to say that their political culture serves them better on this issue. But we think it’s more complicated.

We think the case for wiretapping people communicating with suspected terrorists is so good that even the American political culture tolerates it and accepts it. Then why the huge uproar over Bush’s policies? Simple partisan politics. If you are Russ Feingold, you can appeal to your party’s leftist core by attacking Bush on this issue. If you are the mainstream media, you can give Bush grief by creating a huge amount of flack, even though you know that, in the end, what he did was reasonable.

So while Europe has had rational politics, the U.S. has had the irrational politics of Bush-hating.

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