The Home Secretary gave her speech to the Conservative Party Conference today, focusing on a number of counter-terrorism measures. Here we dissect the key points:
1) Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, or TPIMs, will be strengthened
TPIMs have not proven to be an improvement on control orders and have been attacked by figures on both sides of the debate. It is our belief that the current system and proposed new measures fail to facilitate the prosecution or conviction of suspected terrorists. The Government should allow the use of intercept evidence in court as a way of helping to resolve any evidence gap.
To read our briefing note on TPIMS click here
2) If there is a majority Conservative government at the next election, the Communications Data Bill will return.
The figures quoted by the Home Secretary in her speech relating to an inability to access communications data are not new, and when pushed for an evidential basis for those figures the Home Office hasn’t been able to make them stand up. When the Bill was being pushed by the Home Office in in 2012 we also heard the example regarding the Soham murder investigation being prevented through a lack of communications data. This was successfully rebutted at the time.
It remains true that it would be reckless of the Conservative’s to attempt to to legislate on further surveillance powers before a comprehensive, independent review of the existing legal framework has taken place. A broad political consensus has emerged in support of a review, with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Shadow Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Committee all recognising that the public should know more about how our surveillance laws are being used and whether the current oversight mechanisms are adequate.
We know from examples in the US that there is far more information that could be published without jeopardising security. Greater transparency would build trust and improve accountability yet the data being recorded by the police and agencies is seriously inadequate. This does not require legislation and should be addressed by the Home Secretary without delay.
3) Prevent will be made a statutory duty for all public sector organisations.
In her speech the Home Secretary said “I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies – Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders – will be in the next Conservative manifesto.”
The Home Secretary freely admitted that as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, the Home Office will assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy that goes beyond terrorism.
The fact that these Extremist Disruption Orders won’t only apply to potential terrorists, but simply to those who present a threat to public disorder, clearly highlights that this policy is the thin end of the wedge.
We were told that the National Extremist Database would contain details of those who posed a nations security, yet we know members of the public who have done little more than organise meetings on environmental issues are on the database. We already have a system to tackle extremists that cloaks itself in mystery, refusing to divulge simple details of how many people are on the Extremist Database and the criteria for being added to it.
In a democratic country, it is wholly wrong for people to be labelled an ‘extremist’ and face having major restrictions placed on their freedom without facing a due legal process and a transparent and accountable system. The Home Secretary must think very carefully about the international precedent that this policy would set and consider the potential consequences for members of the public.