Madrid blasts provoke discussion on anti-terrorism law

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

In the aftermath of Thursday's Madrid bomb blasts, Czech politicians have been engaged in heated debate over whether or not the country needs a law against terrorism. While the Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the Interior Minister Stanislav Gross agree that the threat of international terrorist attack is real, some Czechs fear that an anti-terrorism law would expand the powers of the intelligence services and thereby threaten basic rights and freedoms. Dita Asiedu reports:

Stanislav Gross,  photo: CTK
On Tuesday Interior Minister Gross said that ministry officials began considering a new law against terrorism about a month ago. If the ministry gets its way the Czech Republic will adopt the law within months. However, the extent to which this new law will grant the secret services more power has not yet been discussed.

Given that the Madrid bombs were detonated through mobile phones, the deputy-chairman of parliament's intelligence committee, Milos Titz, believes it is imperative that the country's secret service is given the authority to shut down all mobile phone networks and to have access to all phone operators' databases:

"Quick online access to the databases of the various operators is important as every move people make nowadays is connected to the mobile phone. The intelligence services cannot afford to go through the long and tedious procedures required to gain court approvals. We have to improve their chances of protecting us all."

However, the head of the Office for the Protection of Personal Data, Karel Neuwirt, strongly opposes such a measure, saying it violates fundamental civil liberties. He is convinced that the Czech Republic is already guaranteed the protection it needs under existing laws:

"The intelligence services always abuse a crisis situation to call for more and more power. This is bad news for Czech citizens. The intelligence services should simply use their already existing powers more efficiently."

The head of parliament's commission for the supervision of secret service activities, Jan Klas, suggests a compromise:

"I think that the time has truly come to make changes. I have been calling onto the government to increase its control over the secret services for many years now. A law that gives them more power should therefore be accompanied by a law that increases their supervision."

Whether or not Jan Klas's compromise will be taken up, the controversy will continue. Czechs have had plenty of experience of living in a police state and any bill that proposes limits to individual liberties will inevitably lead to passionate debate.