UK anti-terrorism proposals include internment for terrorist "suspects" and data retention by communications providers
In the UK House of Commons on Monday 15 October the David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced in outline three emergency measures to be passed through parliament by "affirmative" procedure (ie. only debate(s) in parliament no detailed consideration by committees).
The measures include two pieces of legislation at this stage: i) an Emergency Anti-Terrorist Bill and ii) an Extradition Bill. The Extradition Bill will, the Home Secretary says, mean the UK derogating from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This would allow for the indefinite detention of foreign nationals "suspected" on the basis of security and police reports of being "a threat to national security" where there was no extradition agreement with a third country or where the return of the person meant they could face torture or death if returned.
To these Bills are added a number of other non-legislative measures:
* agreeing a "code of practice" with the communications industry to retain communications data (eg: e-mails, faxes and internet usage);
* requiring carriers to give law enforcement agencies access to details of passengers and freight (air and sea). It is not clear whether this power will solely relate to terrorism or crime in general;
* allowing customs officials and tax revenue officials to pass information the law enforcement agencies. It is not clear whether this power will solely relate to terrorism or crime in general;
* extending the role and jurisdiction for British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police and the Atomic Energy Authority. It is not clear whether these powers will solely relate to terrorism or crime in general;
* giving the police and customs officials the power to demand the removal of "facial covering or gloves". It is not clear whether these powers will solely relate to terrorism or crime in general.
Home Secretary dodges question on the scope of "terrorism"
Chris Mullin MP, chair of the parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee, said there was a long history in the UK of "anti-terrorism legislation being introduced in haste and repented at leisure". He tried to pin down the government on the proposed definition of "terrorism" and asked:
"The EC may be proposing to cast the net a little too wide. Will he ensure that whatever definition [of terrorism] is finally agreed is robust, watertight and confined to dealing with terrorists and not with other people who might, from time to time, get up the noses of the established order?"
The Home Secretary did not answer this question - which leaves wide open the issue of whether the EU definition of "terrorism" extends to protests and "urban violence".
Home Office News Release, 15/10/2001
BLUNKETT OUTLINES FURTHER ANTI-TERRORIST MEASURES
Details of the Government's legislative package to combat terrorism were outlined to the House of Commons today by Home Secretary David Blunkett. The Home Secretary said:
"It is the first job of government and the essence of our democracy that we safeguard rights and freedoms, the most
basic of which is to live safely and in peace.
"I am determined to strike a balance between respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited."
The Bill will include:
§ Tough financial controls to staunch the flow of terrorist funding - powers for account monitoring and swift asset freezing, seizure of cash in-country, and strict reporting obligations on the financial sector including making it an offence for a bank not to report a transaction where it knows or suspects funds may be intended for terrorist
§ Measures to allow quicker and more effective co-operation with fellow EU countries on police and legal issues;
§ An extension of the incitement law to cover religious, as well as racial hatred. Both incitement offences will have an increased maximum penalty from two years to seven years;
§ Widening of the incitement law to cover incitement within the UK of terrorist acts against groups or individuals overseas and examining additional powers in relation to conspiracy;
§ A requirement on transport companies to keep passenger and freight information records and make them available in advance to law enforcement agencies;
§ The removal of current barriers which prevent customs and revenue officers providing information to law enforcement agencies in their fight against terrorism;
§ Measures to enable communication service providers to retain data generated in the course of their business, namely the records of calls made and other data - not the content. Government will work with the industry on a Code of Practice to take this forward;
§ The strengthening of security at airports and for passengers. Powers both within restricted areas at airports and aboard aircraft will all be strengthened;
§ Expanding the role and jurisdiction of the British Transport Police, together with those working on enforcement from the Ministry of Defence and the Atomic Energy Authority. Their powers will be widened beyond the boundaries of particular sites.
§ Powers to give the police and customs services the authority to demand the removal of facial covering or gloves;
§ Clauses to close the gaps in our present legislation relating to chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to prevent the use, production, possession or participation in unauthorised transfers of these materials;
§ Fingerprints taken in immigration and asylum cases can be retained for up to 10 years in order to improve identification of individuals.
The Bill would also contain robust and streamlined procedures for dealing with those suspected of terrorist acts who seek to misuse our asylum and immigration systems. These measures will:
§ Remove access to judicial review in decisions made by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, the body that deals with suspected terrorists' asylum claims;
§ Enable asylum claims to be rejected where the Secretary of State certifies the person is a threat to national security; and
§ Detain those who are a terrorist threat but who cannot be removed from the country, whilst retaining a right of appeal. This will require a limited suspension from Article 5 of the ECHR, using ECHR Article 15 which allows for suspension in the event of a public emergency. This will ensure we remain consistent with our international obligations, including the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees.
In addition the Home Secretary announced that, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would be establishing a new anti-terrorist finance unit.
The Home Secretary also outlined the current domestic security situation:
"At the time of the Millennium a great deal of work was undertaken to ensure the security of key utilities. I want to
assure the House that both in the Civil Contingencies Committee and more widely, we have examined and put in
place, further work to update our preparedness, preventive action, and remedial steps, should they be necessary.
"The United Kingdom has some of the world's best counter terrorist expertise. Working together with international
partners, we are taking every step to protect ourselves. These plans are continually reviewed and tested.
"There is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom, but we remain alert,
domestically as well as internationally."
The Home Secretary told the House that in addition to the Emergency Anti-Terrorist Bill he intended to bring forward an Extradition Bill to modernise and place our laws within the context of the new international situation. He also announced his intention to modernise the nationality and asylum system in the weeks ahead.
The Home Secretary said:
"The legislative measures which I have outlined today, will protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them.
"Justice for individuals and minorities are reaffirmed, and justice for the majority and the security of our nation will be secured.
"On 11 September, families lost their loved ones, and the threat of terrorism touched us all. If we fail now to take the necessary action to protect our people, future generations will never forgive us."
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Emergency Anti-Terrorism Bill will cover the whole of the UK with specific provision as needed for the devolved administrations and other parts of the UK.
Statewatch News online | Join Statewatch news e-mail list | If you use this site regularly, you are encouraged to make a donation to Statewatch to support future research