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BRUSSELS, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Belgium’s lower house passed a

controversial bill on Tuesday giving police extra powers to

fight terrorism, to the dismay of human rights lawyers who see

it as a violation of the right to privacy.

The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill by 80 votes to

eight with 37 abstentions, and it now needs to win Senate

approval to pass into law.

It would allow police to raid suspects’ homes at any time of

the day or night, and to carry out certain types of surveillance

without permission from a magistrate.

Police were previously restricted to conducting raids during

the day, and were forbidden to take photographs of suspects

without permission.

“The old legislation allowed police to look around and see

if a full investigation would be useful,” said Justice Committee

President Fons Borginon. “We now allow them to do that during

the night.”

The bill was drafted by the federal prosecutor’s office,

which wants to be able to carry out investigations without

having first to go through a cumbersome legal process, and is an

extension to a recent law which made terrorism a crime.

Prosecutors are using the law for the first time in a case

against 13 suspected members of an Islamic militant group called

the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM).

Human rights advocates have criticised the bill, saying it

does not strike the right balance between the protection of

national security and the rights of the individual.

“We think these measures would strike a blow to the right to

defence and to a private life,” said Manuel Lambert, the lawyer

of the Belgian Human Rights League. “It gives too much power to

the police and not enough protection of civil liberties.”

The bill does give defence lawyers greater access to

information gathered by police on suspects, but how much is

revealed, including the names of informants, remains the subject

of debate, a justice official said.