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Britain Asks EU Partners for Closer Anti-Terrorism Coordination

Britain has asked other members of the European Union to urgently implement EU plans for closer coordination in the fight against terrorism following last week's bombings in London. EU justice ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss measures Britain says are essential to combating terrorists.

Britain now holds the EU's rotating presidency and is in a position to drive the bloc's agenda for the next six months.

Jack Straw

The London bombings have given added urgency to the fight against terrorism, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the European Parliament it is time to speed up efforts for better EU-wide coordination in that struggle.

Mr. Straw wants EU countries to standardize the retention of telephone and e-mail records for at least 12 months to help criminal investigators. Right now, governments compel telephone and Internet companies to keep such information for different amounts of time.

That idea has aroused concern among civil liberties activists as well as many members of the European Parliament. Elmar Brok, a German conservative who heads the body's foreign relations committee, is among those who are worried about the move.

"The limits are the freedom of the people. You cannot destroy individual freedom in order to fight terrorism because, then, the terrorists have won," he said.

But Mr. Straw, while acknowledging that data retention should not infringe on civil liberties, says EU countries have to "re-balance the rights of individuals with the rights of society."

"We want a common standard across Europe so that, when you are faced with the aftermath of a terrorist outrage, as we are, we can access this data," he said. "It's a threat to nobody's civil liberties who lives by the law, but it will make the detection and the prevention of terrorism easier."

Mr. Straw also wants the EU to agree to plans to strengthen protection of key infrastructure targets such as transportation and energy networks.

His colleague, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, was also in Brussels Tuesday urging his fellow finance ministers to step up efforts to identify and freeze the assets of groups using violence to advance their political aims.

The EU agreed to such measures after last year's terrorist train bombings in Madrid but has been slow in enforcing them.

Still, London-based money-laundering expert Jeffrey Robinson, says a crackdown on terrorist financing will not work because terrorist groups rarely use the banking system.

"Terror financing is about low level, under-the-radar crime. That money is put in pockets. That's cash money that doesn't enter the banking system," he said.

Mr. Robinson says terrorists finance their operations through such low-cost tactics as credit card or check fraud which cannot be traced by anti-money laundering laws.