Thursday, March 12, 2009

EU Gestapo defeated in EU court

"Gestapo" is short for "Geheime Staatspolizei" or "Secret State police". And it was precisely official secrecy that was used oppressively but eventually defeated in this case

A tennis player today won his case at the European Court of Justice against airport security staff who believed that his racquets posed a terrorist threat and threw him off a flight. Judges ruled that the unpublished European Union register of hand luggage restrictions could not be enforced because passengers had no way of knowing exactly what was prohibited. The EU list shows that racquets are not specifically banned from the cabin. However, it contains a catch-all prohibition on "any blunt instrument capable of causing injury". An over-eager airport official might still argue that racquets fall into that category.

BAA tonight advised tennis travellers at British airports to play safe and store their racquets in the hold. A spokesman said that even if they escaped a ban as a terrorist weapon, they would most likely exceed the size limits for cabin baggage.

The case was brought by Gottfried Heinrich, Austrian tennis enthusiast. On his way to a tournament he was thrown off a flight at Vienna airport in 2005, having already cleared general security screening. It highlighted what one legal adviser called the "fundamental absurdity" of European anti-terror regulations from 2003 that outlawed a range of possible weapons from the aircraft cabin - but were not made public for security reasons. The EU eventually published the secret list last summer, finally explaining why passengers had found that skateboards, golf clubs and fishing roads were not allowed in the cabin.

Mr Heinrich was so angry that he brought a compensation case against the Austrian authorities for failing to inform him that he was carrying banned items. The Austrian court felt that the matter was of such great importance to all airline passengers in the EU that it referred it up to the ECJ in Luxembourg. After winning his case today, Mr Heinrich is now able to pursue his compensation case at the court in Austria.

Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MEP who campaigned on behalf of Mr Heinrich, said: "It was utterly illogical to produce a list of banned objects from cabin baggage yet not tell anyone what they were."

A spokesman for BAA said: "Our view is that tennis rackets will clearly contravene the hand baggage size regulations of 56x45x25cm, and therefore we would definitely recommend to passengers that these are placed in their hold luggage. Even if they were smaller than that, it is worth noting that the regulations prohibit "sporting bats, cues and darts" from being taken aboard."

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP, said: "This categorical judgement is a victory for democracy and openness, and a slap in the face of the European Commission and EU governments who thought Kafkaesque methods acceptable. "The Court has now agreed with our protest that it cannot be right for 500 million EU citizens to be told to obey laws they cannot read for themselves."

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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