As the terror threat is being raised from “substantial” to “severe”, new counter-terror legislation is being implemented to help tackle the threat. But are our civil liberties being ignored in the name of counter terrorism?
Home Secretary Theresa May has introduced a new terror bill to crack down on both terror plotters and backers. This will be the seventh major counter-terror bill introduced in the UK post 9/11. Most people would agree that measures should be taken to protect the public from acts of terrorism but the question is whether this bill has gone too far.
In light of the mounting threat from Islamic State, the bill includes measures to prevent people heading abroad to fight by allowing authorities to cancel passports for up to 30 days. The new powers also prevent terror suspects from re-entering the country. Suspects will be given the option if coming home to the UK and being put under surveillance by security services, or being banned from the UK, ultimately leaving them nationless.
One of the measures raising the most concern with civil liberty groups is the appeal to schools and universities to prevent the radicalisation of students. Although the bill refers to extremism in general, it is likely that Islamic extremism will be the main target of the procedure. But when do views become radical? Cracking down on radicalisation can threaten freedom of expression and more than that, the freedom just to hold a certain view. Having a view and actually acting on it are different things; is it reasonable to penalise someone just for subscribing to a particular idea?
There have also been changes to the TPIMs (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) now allowing authorities to relocate suspects to other areas on the country. However the classification for who is a suspect has been revised; there does no longer have to be “reasonable belief” only “balance of probability” in the balance of proof. Concerns over this have been raised by some of the country’s leading lawyers; Mr David Anderson QC responded to the bill by asking “where are the courts in all of this?”. Mr Anderson argued that the measures appeared too harsh for some of the “young, possibly vulnerable people caught up with the wrong crowd”. Subjecting them straight away to the criminal justice system may be a step too far, for some people are lighter touch might be more effective and appropriate.
Ultimately we do live in a world where extreme views can lead to a credible threat to the safety of our nation; we cannot deny that we are under attack and we should aim to stop this threat. Gone is the era of war being exclusive to national armies, we are in an ideological war against independent groups. Yet Benjamin Franklin once claimed “those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither”. We may now be at the stage where our steps to prevent terrorism are intruding on the values that our society prides itself on.
May announced that “in an open and free society, we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism”. Is it her plan to take away the civil liberties we enjoy as British citizens with the aim of eradicating the threat of terrorism? If so, is it worth it?
By Ellen Clarke, Junior Writer at Daily Political View