First thoughts on the terrorism and control orders changes

There are several things I like in today’s announcement on counter-terrorism.

The first two things we already had, but it’s been confirmed there is no intention to reintroduce them. Firstly, 28 day detention is out the window, down to 14 days as the previous legislation had a sunset clause in it that had lapsed. The government is drafting legislation to increase this to 28 days but not actually introducing it, basically reserving parliaments right to change it’s mind in future. (Which seems reasonable)

Secondly, section 44 stop-and-search powers were already gone as they were ruled a breach of Human Rights. (Although a photographer was stopped under these powers recently, apparently illegally. It’s being reworked but requires the consent of a “senior officer” where necessary, over a small geographic area and only for 14 days at a time.

Given that section 44 is effectively dead already, it seems trying to rework it so that it can be reintroduced is a backwards step. There doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the “senior officer” just renewing the consent every 14 days and there’s no change in the photography rules. “Guidelines” will be reworked, but that doesn’t stop front-line officers harassing photographers so I’m not convinced this will help. It depends on how tightly worded the new legislation is.

I’m cynical on this point because the review mentions “critical national infrastructure”. In my role as an ISP I’ve had various things inflicted upon me in the name of protecting this infrastructure and in general, they seem counterproductive.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers – Local government will need a magistrate to approve surveillance, interception or obtaining communications data. This is a big plus as although I haven’t seen any particularly hideous abuses to date, tapping lines and getting access to peoples email and phone records seems quite a major power for a city council who might just be investigating fly tipping.

The headline-grabber is control orders. It’s more liberal than the current system and as such should be recognised as a step in the right direction. But I don’t welcome it enthusiastically as it still mean there exists a system of punishing someone without even letting them know what they’ve done wrong, which I’m firmly against.

The recommendations seem like a reasonably light touch, sounding like a tough version of an ASBO – curfew, restrictions on going to some specified places, ban on overseas travel and restrictions on the use of the internet.

But it’s what isn’t in there that worries me. The restrictions on use of the internet effectively ban ownership of many electronic devices such as XBoxes, PS3s, iPhones etc and there are other “limited restrictions” on communication which could be anything. There’s also a maximum restriction of 2 years, unless someone does something again that indicates a possible terrorist connection which torpedos the whole point of putting a limit on it. Given that someone under a control order hasn’t been told what action they took made them subject to the order in the first case, how can they avoid doing it again?

And the home secretary only needs to “reasonably believe” – with no chance for anyone to present contrary evidence – that someone poses a threat. That’s a lower than the civil court when suing someone, “balance of probabilities” and it’s well short of the “beyond reasonable doubt” required to jail someone.

Better hope that you’re never in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone might reasonably believe you’re a terrorist and you won’t even know why you’re suddenly subject to curfews and not allowed on the internet.

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