Amnesty International launches petition against "42 days"

[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Amnesty International have launched an online petition against the British government’s proposals to allow people to be detained for up to 42 days without charge if they’re suspected of terrorism. At the time of writing, it has 2856 signatures.

Meanwhile, The Times is reporting that the government have decided not to use the Parliament Act should the 42 days proposal be defeated in the House of Lords. The Counter Terrorism Bill returns to the Lords later this week.

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David Davis campaign website

See my post at Magna Carta Plus for details.

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The Terrorism Bill 2005: A threat to blogs/websites?

Update: I got it wrong on the committee stage of the bill. The committee stage of this bill takes place over 2 days, the 2nd and 3rd of November. See this link. Sorry for the mistake.

I confess to having taken my off the ball on this one. I didn’t realise the Terrorism Bill 2005 (yes another one!) was in parliament until I heard about the 2nd reading and then was slow off the mark to write about it…

Spy.org.uk have berated the British blogosphere for failing to cover/analyse the Terrorism Bill 2005, which, in addition to enabling 90 days detention of terrorist suspects without charge, they argue threatens websites, bloggers and libraries due to the:

  • vaguely defined offences of “inciting or glorifying” terrorism and distributing a terrorist publication, combined with
  • the power of a police constable, acting on his own opinion that the publication is “terrorism-related”, to issue a notice to a publisher to remove or modify an article within 2 days or be deemed to have endorsed the article, thus rendering you unable to raise the defence that it was provided only in the course of providing an electronic service, you didn’t know it was terrorism related AND you did not endorse it.

More detail can be found here and at the Magna Carta Plus weblog. Note that the committee stage of this bill will be over on Wednesday 2nd November. Time to make use of WriteToThem

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The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005: Summary

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, i.e. the control orders legislation, is available online here.
This is the version of the legislation that has become law. This article summarises the key features of the Act.

Sections 1 to 4 set out the powers to create control orders. The main points are:

  • Control orders have two forms: derogating control orders are those incompatible with the right to liberty set out in article 5 of the ECHR and thus require a derogation from that article, non-derogating control orders are those which do not derogate from article 5.
  • Control orders can be imposed on a person by a court on application by the Home Secretary, except for non-derogating control orders where the Home Secretary can impose an order without first going through the courts if, in his opion, it is urgent.
  • Control orders can impose any obligation that the Home Secretary (or court where appropriate) believes is necessary for “purposes connected with” preventing or restricting the involvement of the person in “terrorism-related activity”.
  • Possible obligations include prohibitions or restrictions on a person’s possession of specified articles and substances; their use of specified facilities; who they can communicate or associate with; their work, occupation, business or other specified activities; their movements and their place of residence.
  • Other possible obligations include requirements on the person to surrender specified possessions for the duration of the order; to allow access to and searches of their place of residence or any other premisses they have access to; to allow items to be removed from their residence/premisses for testing and to remain in a particular place for specified times or periods or generally.
  • Terrorism-related activity is defined as activity one or more of the following: the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; conduct which facilitates the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; conduct which encourages the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; or conduct which gives support or assistance to individuals known or believed to be involved in terrorism-related activity.
  • Terrorism is defined as it is under Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
  • The Home Secretary can impose a non-derogating control order on a person if he has “reasonable grounds for suspecting” someone is or has been involved in terrorism related activity, and if he considers it necessary to do so for to protect members of the public from “a risk of terrorism”.
  • Non-derogating control orders last for 12 months but can be renewed by the Home Secretary.
  • Courts must give permission for the Home Secretary’s application for a non-derogating control order unless they find that the decision to make such a control order is “obviously flawed”. They can also quash specific obligations if they believe the decision to impose them is “obviously flawed”.
  • For a derogating control order to be imposed, there must be a public emergency resulting in derogation from article 5 of the ECHR in force.
  • A court can impose a derogating control order if it is satisfied, on balance of probabilities, that the person concerned is involved in terrorism-related activity and if it considers the control order necessary for purposes connected to protecting the public from a risk of terrorism. Note that my earlier article on control orders was thus mistaken about the burden of proof for derogating control orders — house arrest would use the balance of probabilities, but non-derogating orders would not.
  • Derogating control orders expire after 6 months unless renewed.

Section 5 enables a person to be arrested and detained by the police as soon as the Home Secretary makes an application for a derogating control order. This detention can last for upto 48 hours, or with court approval, a further 48 hours.

Section 6 stipulates that derogating control orders can only have effect if a derogation from article 5 of the ECHR is in force. Such a derogation is made by the Home Secretary making an order and putting it before both Houses of Parliament. The order to derogate ceases to have effect 40 days after it has been made, unless both Houses approve of the order. If approved an order lasts for 12 months, but can be renewed by Parliament.

Section 7 sets out various matters on modifying and proving control orders including giving the police the power to enter any premisses, by force if necessary, to search for someone who is to be subjected to a control order, where they suspect the person to be on those premisses.

Section 9 creates various offences. It is an offence to contravene an obligation imposed by a control order, punishable by upto 5 yrs in prison. Obstructing officials who try to enter premisses to search for someone subject to a control order is an offence carrying upto 1 yr (6 months in Scotland) in prison.

Section 13 stipulates that Sections 1 to 9 expire after 12 months, but allows them to be renewed for a year at a time by Parliament.

Section 14 requires the Home Secretary to make 3 monthly reports on the use of control orders, to appoint someone to review the legislation, for that person to review the legislation after 9 months and then every 12 months thereafter (if the legislation is renewed).

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Former anti-terrorist officer says Britain is sinking into a police state.

The Guardian reports that George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad in the 1980s and 1990s, and who had to tackle the threat posed by the IRA has this to say on the govt’s house arrest proposals:

George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad as they worked to counter the IRA during their mainland attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Mr Clarke’s proposals to extend powers, such as indefinite house arrest, were “not practical” and threatened to further marginalise minority communities. Mr Churchill-Coleman told the Guardian: “I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that’s not good for anybody. We live in a democracy and we should police on those standards.

He added: “I have serious worries and concerns about these ideas on both ethical and practical terms. You cannot lock people up just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn’t work in Northern Ireland, it won’t work now. You need evidence.”

I quite agree. And whom am I to argue with an ex anti-terrorist officer? Incidently, I think I can locate the cause of Mr Churchill-Coleman’s horrible feeling: We are sinking into a police state.

On a completely different topic, the blogger behind the auroran sunset has said he’s unable to select text on my blog, using the Firefox and Safari browsers. I am able to do so with Firefox, whether I’m logged into the account or not. I’ve also checked the template and settings and can’t find any obvious reason why this should be the case. I’ve regenerated the whole blog and enabled the facility to email articles to friends to see if this helps. Anyway please let me know if you’re having any difficulties.

A note to the auroran sunset if you’re reading this.

I’ve emailed you via the email address you use on usenet. I hope that gets through. I couldn’t find any other address on your website and I didn’t want to create a new blog on http://www.livejournal.com just to send you a comment via the diary (your disabling of anonymous comments limits comments to livejournal users).

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"False positives" in the fight against terrorism

Security consultant Bruce Schneier writes regarding the trade offs one has to make in security when dealing with terrorists:

Security systems fail in two different ways. The first is the obvious one: they fail to detect, stop, catch, or whatever, the bad guys. The second is more common, and often more important: they wrongly detect, stop, catch, or whatever, an innocent person. This story is from the New Zealand Herald:

A New Zealand resident who sent $5000 to his ill uncle in India had the money frozen for nearly a month because his name matched that of several men on a terrorist watch list.

Because there are far more innocent people than guilty ones, this second type of error is far more common than the first type. Security is always a trade-off, and when you’re trading off positives and negatives, you have to look at these sorts of things.

It is for reasons such as this that one should be very wary of weakening rules such as the presumption of innocence, the right to silence and the prohibition of double jeopardy in order to make it easier to jail those suspected of crime or terrorism. These rules were put in place for very sound reasons. Get any changes to them wrong and the impact is likely to be felt mostly by the innocent. A safer strategy is to bolster the investigative powers and the resources available to the police and security agencies dealing with these problems.

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Is the govt to introduce guilt by association?

The Observer reports that it is, although the source is describe as “a source close to Home Secretary, David Blunkett”:

Under Blunkett’s plans, ‘associates’ of terrorists would initially face a civil court order – like the anti-social behaviour orders slapped on unruly teenagers – banning individuals from contact with named terror suspects. This would be intended as a deterrent: disobedience would become an offence punishable by jail.

‘Association’ could cover not only meeting in person, but communicating via email or telephone, or even fundraising: sources close to the Home Secretary said, however, there would have to be evidence of some suspicious intent, rather than merely socialising.

Thus if someone you know is suspected by the police, you could be banned from having contact with them on pain of imprisonment. Which might be a bit unfortunate should you possess the evidence that show they’re innocent but only a conversation with the suspect themselves would reveal this to you (and them).

And note that it is those merely “suspected” of involvement in terrorism that people will be stopped from associating with — suspicion does not imply guilt, and you and the suspect need not have done anything wrong for this to be applied. Then of course there is the possibility of guilt by association becoming circular…

Yet another assault on liberty from Blair and Blunkett.

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