[IWAR] INTERNET EU considers net police powers

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Date: Thu Jan 29 1998 - 12:26:33 PST

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    Thursday January 29 1:56 PM EST 
    European body considers expanding police Net powers
       By Helen Smith
       BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - E-mail will be fair game for Europe's
       police forces under a new directive being explored by the powerful
       European Union.
       Justice ministers from European Union member countries agreed Thursday
       to consider letting police snoop on Internet users as a measure to
       tackle organized crime.
       Police are currently barred from tapping into private computer messages,
       but that ban may be lifted due to fears that the Internet is being used
       by international criminals for money laundering and other crimes.
       The ministers, gathered for an informal meeting in Birmingham, central
       England, agreed police should be given new powers but added they should
       be tightly restricted so as not to damage the rapidly growing computer
       "There could only be such access under strictly controlled conditions
       and on the basis of demonstrable need," said an official.
       Britain's Home Secretary (interior minister) Jack Straw, who is hosting
       the first meeting of justice ministers on his home territory under
       Britain's six-month EU presidency, says police forces must be brought
       into the modern age.
       "We are using 19th century procedures to pursue 21st century criminals,"
       he said recently.
       Officials said another of Britain's objectives under its presidency --
       the establishment of the pan-European police force Europol -- now
       appeared within its grasp.
       All but four of the EU's 15 member countries have ratified the treaty to
       set up Europol and they expect to do so within the next few months.
       "Europol should be up and running by the summer," the official said.
       The force will gather information to help national police forces to
       counter cross-border crime.
       There was a more mixed reception for one of the British presidency's
       main hobby horses -- an appeal for greater openness in EU affairs.
       The second day of the meeting on Friday is likely to be dominated by the
       EU's Schengen agreement dropping border controls and a recent influx of
       Kurdish immigrants from Iraq and Turkey.
       The immigrants began pouring into Italy after Rome said it would grant
       asylum to genuine refugees, putting the Schengen pact under severe
       Police officials from France, Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands, Austria
       and Italy met in Rome last month and agreed to tighten border controls.
       But the problem has not gone away and the Schengen member countries will
       hold a meeting of their own on Friday to address it.
       Schengen, which came into effect in March 1995, has also been blamed for
       a rise in organised crimes, such as drug trafficking and paedophile
       The EU commission says the problems are due to member countries failing
       to put the agreement fully into effect, a view shared by Britain's
       Britain did not join the full Schengen pact, arguing its long coastal
       borders needed close policing, but Prime Minister Tony Blair signed up
       with enthusiasm in Amsterdam last June to a deal on international
       security cooperation.

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