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Counter-extremism bill – part 2


The counter-extremism bill, which is due to be published later this year, is aimed at “suppressing extremist activity.” The legislation will include not only the expected snooper’s charter, it will include proposals for banning orders to outlaw extremist organisations, extremist disruption orders to restrict the activities of individuals, and closure orders to shut down premises used by extremists.

It also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications. The extension of the bill to “modernise the law” on tracking communications data, was agreed within government only this month.

But in a critical response to these proposals, David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, in his annual report, said that the proposed legislation to counter extremist ideology also risks legitimising state scrutiny of – and citizens informing on – the political activities of large numbers of law-abiding people. He said that the restrictions to free speech in the proposals were likely to prove controversial.

Surveillance is only one arm of the government’s policy, but defeating the ideology in the long run will matter more. That makes Mr Anderson’s criticism of the latest attempt to redefine extremism to include not just violent but “vocal or active opposition” to fundamental British values all the more damaging. He warns that the introduction of what amounts to thought crime could do more harm than good.

He went on to write: “But if these exceptional powers are to command public consent, it is important that they should be confined to their proper purpose. Recent years have seen a degree of “creep” that Parliament could reverse without diminishing in any way the utility of anti-terrorism law.”

Anderson continued: “Fortunately there is a very simple solution: to bring UK law into line with that of other countries and with the various international Treaties in this area. Terrorism should be redefined so that it applies only if there is intent to coerce, compel or intimidate a Government or a section of the public.
A new law does have to be framed if Mr Anderson’s criticism of the status quo as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable” is to be met. The headlines were grabbed by his proposal that judges, rather than ministers, should authorise the interception of communications.

Anderson went on to write:“The public accepts special terrorism laws so long as they are used only when necessary. But they can currently to be applied to journalists and bloggers, to criminals who have no concern other than their immediate victim, and to those who are connected with terrorism only at several removes.”

In Anderson’s opinion, the benefits claimed for the new law, assuming that they can be clearly identified, will have to be weighed with the utmost care against the potential consequences, in terms of both inhibiting those freedoms and alienating those people.

The home secretary replied to the criticism by saying that she would respond to it formally in due course.
So who do you find the more persuasive, David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, or the head of MI5, Andrew Parker. It is significant that the government was moved to create precedent by wheeling Parker out for the first live media interview ever given by a senior British intelligence to support the proposed counter-extremism bill, which will not have an easy passage through Parliament.

And the courts will have their say. In a current influential opinion, the European court of justice’s advocate general, Yves Bot, accused America’s intelligence services of conducting “mass, indiscriminate surveillance.” He said that this surveillance was inherently disproportionate and constituted an unwarranted interference in rights guaranteed under the EU charter of fundamental rights.

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Counter-extremism bill – part 1


Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV. As a result, surveillance has become an inescapable part of life. Britain has a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy.

This was the very solid base for coalition home secretary Teresa May’s snooper’s charter bill three years ago which would have allowed GCHQ to conduct real-time surveillance of a person’s communications and their web usage. The intelligence services and police would have had powers to insist that internet and phone companies hand over our data without our knowledge. She stressed the need to move quickly.

Then plans were put on hold after being condemned by MPs of all parties. Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister, announced that the contentious measures would only be published in draft form and would be subject to widespread consultation, concessions that could delay the proposals for at least a year.

Now these proposals are very much back on the agenda. David Cameron and the home secretary, Theresa May, have defined extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”. It covers a range of activity not caught by the current law as terrorism, incitement to violence, stirring up hatred or abuse.

The counter-extremism bill, which is due to be published later this year, is aimed at “suppressing extremist activity.” It is far more wide-ranging than expected. The legislation will include not only the expected snooper’s charter, it will include proposals for banning orders to outlaw extremist organisations, extremist disruption orders to restrict the activities of individuals, and closure orders to shut down premises used by extremists.
It also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications. The extension of the bill to “modernise the law” on tracking communications data, was agreed within government only this month.

Last week, in the first live media interview ever given by a senior British intelligence official, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, called for more up to date surveillance powers and said tech companies had an ethical responsibility to provide more help in monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists and paedophiles.
The investigatory powers legislation is expected to include powers to require internet and phone companies to collect and store for 12 months the browsing histories of customers along with detailed records of voice calls, messaging and text services.

It would require the companies, including those based abroad such as Google and Facebook, to give the police and security services access to this bulk data.

In a statement released by MI5 after his radio interview, Parker welcomed the prospect of new legislation governing surveillance, acknowledging that the existing law, introduced in 2000, was out of date.

He said: “Today we are being stretched by a growing threat from terrorism, and from Syria in particular, combined with the constant challenge of technological change.” He said the terrorist threat to the UK was rated severe, meaning an attack is likely, and that six alleged terrorist plots had been disrupted over the last year, the highest number he had seen in his 32 years at MI5.

“The way we work these days has changed as technology has advanced. Our success depends on us and our partner agencies having sufficient up-to-date capabilities, used within a clear framework of law against those who threaten this country,” he said.

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Yet more anti-terrorism legislation


Prime Minister Cameron has warned that the danger posed by Islamic State (Isis) extremists presented the biggest security threat of modern times, surpassing that of al-Qaida. He is joined by many voices in calling for a range of new powers. As if there are not enough already, many of them the product of similar panic attacks.

The coalition’s package of measures does not include key proposals, shelved amid legal uncertainty, Lib Dem objections and doubts within the security services. Cameron insists that new measures are still needed to prevent British jihadis returning to this country but his rhetoric is not backed up by specific proposals. Read the full story

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The war on terror


The so-called war on terror is nearly 13 years old. In that time there have been crackdowns on civil liberties across the world and military interventions whose consequences have ranged from the disastrous to the catastrophic. But little seems to have been learned.

Last Friday the level of threat of a terrorist attack in the UK was raised to ‘severe’ by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) due to fears about British jihadis returning from Iraq and Syria. This prompted Prime Minister Cameron to warn that the danger posed by Islamic State (Isis) extremists presented the biggest security threat of modern times, surpassing that of al-Qaida. Read the full story

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Judges reject use of secret evidence in civil trials


“The importance of civil trials being fair, the procedures of the court being simple, and the rules of court being clear are all of cardinal importance. It would, in our view, be wrong for judges to introduce into ordinary civil trials a procedure which…cuts across absolutely fundamental principles (the right to a fair trial and the right to know the reasons for the outcome), initially hard fought for and now well established Read the full story

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