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Brussels Bombings Prompt Calls in Germany for Better Data Exchange

The terrorism-induced disruptions to life in parts of Europe show no sign of hitting the economy...yet. JOHN THYS AFP/Getty Images

Europe urgently needs to improve the way its security agencies share information, members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives were reported as saying, stoking a debate on how to tighten security while safeguarding data protection.

The suicide bombings in Brussels on Tuesday that killed 31 people and last November’s attacks in Paris have highlighted weak links in information-sharing between Western intelligence services.

“Faster communication is important so that tips about possible attacks can be quickly assessed and terrorist acts can be prevented if possible before they take place or cleared up in a more focused way,” Germany’s EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told the daily Bild.

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Oettinger, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, called for data protection rules to be standardized to make it possible for security agencies in other EU member states can access data.

“It can’t be that we collect data in Germany and that investigations in other countries fail because they are not allowed to look at it. We need a security union,” he said.

Following the Brussels attacks, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said security should be given a priority over data protection, prompting criticism from the opposition Greens.

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Germans are particularly sensitive about data protection because of their experience of state surveillance by the Stasi secret police in East Germany and the Gestapo under the Nazis.

But Hans-Peter Uhl, a member of the Christian Social Union, sister party to Merkel’s CDU, backed de Maiziere and described the debate as “grotesque.”

“Bombs are exploding and we are concerned about data protection,” Uhl told Die Welt. “Now it needs to be recognized that Europe is not just an area of freedom but must prioritize becoming an area of security and justice again.”

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German fears that an attack could happen in their country have risen since the Paris attacks and the head of its domestic intelligence agency has warned that Islamic State militants have slipped into Europe disguised as refugees.

Greens co-chairwoman Simone Peter told Die Welt that Europe’s security agencies needed to improve co-operation but said the quality of data was more important than quantity.

“Basic rights like data protection are not a luxury that you can jettison when it gets difficult,” she said. “More groundless surveillance will be of less use than the targeted collection and evaluation of suspicious factors.”