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Britain Says EU Must Weigh Restricting Civil Rights

Britain says the European Union should consider restricting some of its civil liberty protections in order to confront international terrorists and criminals.

The thrust of the British argument is that at a time when terrorists perpetrate mass killings, Europeans should be ready to surrender some individual civil rights for the greater public good.

Britain currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Home Secretary Charles Clarke told the European Parliament Wednesday his country will spearhead a debate on how best to fight terrorists and criminals during its six-month term at the EU helm.

"We should not forget that we now possess many hard-fought rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to property, the right to free speech, the right to travel, the right to life," said Charles Clarke. "These rights are actively threatened by criminals and terrorists. We have a duty and responsibility to help protect them for our citizens through practical measures. As we consider how best to do this, there will always and inevitably be a balance in rights."

Mr. Clarke says EU countries should require telecommunications firms to retain records of Internet use, e-mail and mobile communications that police can access to try to combat criminals and terrorists.

He also says there should be Europe-wide standards to put biometrics on documents, such as passports and driving licenses to prevent the use of false identities.

And he suggests the EU needs to re-examine the 50-year-old European Convention on Human Rights, which has been invoked to prevent the deportation of suspected terrorists to countries that practice torture.

"Because of the changed circumstances since the days when the convention was signed, I think that it's very important that the jurisprudence, the judges, when they come to their judgments and decisions, take into account the real circumstances in the modern world," he said.

Mr. Clarke says it would be wrong to deport people to be tortured, but agreements can be reached with countries to assure that the basic human rights of suspects are protected.

The issues raised by Mr. Clarke will undergo further examination this week when the EU justice ministers meet in Britain on Thursday and Friday.

The debate takes place against the backdrop of new anti-terrorism measures announced by Britain since the July 7 bombings in London that killed 56 people. The measures include banishment and deportation of foreign-born Islamic clerics who advocate or justify terrorism.