Yesterday, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security (CTBS) Bill was voted through to the House of Lords by an overwhelming majority of MPs.
This followed a Parliamentary debate on the Bill including amendments submitted to it, which will be further debated in the House of Lords before returning to a final cross-House decision to pass the Bill into law.
CAGE has written about the dangers presented by this piece of legislation when it was first introduced, namely that the proposals move towards:
- Strengthening the hard arm of policing, by introducing new and broader terror-related offences and longer prison sentences;
- Widening the scope of surveillance and intelligence-gathering outside the sphere of crime, with new powers to stop, search and detain individuals without suspicion; and
- Securitising the public sector and space further, by co-opting local authorities further into the counter-terror apparatus.
New, broader categories of offences
Much of the Bill expands on pre-existing counter-terror powers, rather than introducing entirely new powers, taking much inspiration from the Terrorism Act 2000. This includes expanding maximum sentences for terror-related charges and increasing the scope of prosecutable ‘glorification offences’, which criminalise those who commit no acts of violence but who are perceived to ‘encourage’ or ‘glorify’ political violence.
Over the last 18 years the complex of counter-terrorism powers and legislation has ballooned vastly, and it has been vastly out of step with the level of threat presented to Britain, or any need for increased legislation.
This Bill builds on and cements those existing powers, and moves towards bringing the ‘exceptional’ powers afforded to counter-terrorism policing into the realm of more standard law and policing, whilst taking the repressive framework constructed around ‘extremism’ into new political terrain.
What is new in the Bill is the category of ‘Hostile Acts’, defined vaguely as an act carried out on behalf of a foreign state that:
‘(a) threatens national security,
(b) threatens the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, or
(c) is an act of serious crime’
Coupled with this is the introduction of new stop, search and detention powers based on Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which would allow for no-suspicion stops of people at borders to identify whether they have been involved in ‘hostile activity’.
The proposals of the Bill affect all of society
The expansion of the counter-terrorism complex has serious ramifications for all those living in Britain.
Having shaped and tested counter-terror measures primarily on the Muslim population, the time has come for the government to expand them outwards onto the population more broadly.
Coming off the back of renewed political tensions between the UK and other governments – namely animosity towards Russia – ‘Hostile Acts’ can operate in the same way as the category of ‘extremism’ has over the last decade.
This enables actions, including potentially non-criminal acts, to be politicised and portrayed as ‘Hostile Acts’ to legitimise encroachment by the state in the name of national security – even when the individual is unaware that they have committed such an act.
With the UK and US descending into an apparent rehash of Cold War posturing with Putin’s Russia, as exemplified by the fallout over the novichok poisonings in Salisbury, the introduction of Hostile Acts leaves the door open to massive crackdowns on dissenters within the UK, who are challenging the British state.
The ability for officers to seize confidential journalistic material under the new Schedule 7-style stops is an affront to journalistic integrity – it is not hard to imagine a scenario whereby the state decides that critical journalists are acting on behalf of another state and committing Hostile Acts against the UK.
The expansion of glorification offences is a wrong-headed move to further criminalise people who are in no way committing acts of violence. Coupled with increases in maximum sentences, this would help further fill prisons for ‘terror-related’ offences – already 84% of those currently in custody are Muslim.
Furthermore this expansion is predicated on the same shoddy theory that underpins extremism and radicalisation in Prevent – that ‘vulnerable people’ exposed to terrorist material can be ‘radicalised’ towards committing acts of violence.
Amendments unduly criminalise travel, clothing choice, and internet activity
A number of amendments were approved yesterday that sought to make the Bill even more wide-ranging and heavy-handed than its original form.
One of the major amendments approved is for the establishment of ‘No-go zones’, which would make it a terror offence to enter areas designated as such by the Secretary of State, similar to powers already in place in Australia.
Discussion around the introduction of this power has been shaped by the oft-touted issue of ‘foreign fighters’ and British citizens travelling to Syria.
What has often been ignored in the national conversations around ‘foreign fighters’ is the varying reasons that people travel, including for aid purposes or supporting anti-ISIS forces, instead painting a misleading picture of hundreds of trained ‘terrorists’ seeking to return to Britain.
Another amendment is that which would make it a terror-related offence for ‘wearing, carrying or displaying an item of clothing or other article in such a way as to arouse reasonable suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation’, as well as the confiscation of clothing and court summons for wearers.
This is again a dangerous and unnecessary overreach of policing powers.
An additional amendment removed the much-criticised ‘3-click’ policy, which criminalises the viewing of ‘terrorist material’ online after three views – but appears instead to now make it an instant offence after 1 viewing, which will impose a massive chilling effect on research and enquiry.
Time to take action
CAGE has always maintained that legislation such as this is unnecessary and counter-productive; it allows for an unprecedented and deeply intrusive ‘counter-terrorism’ industry that encroaches on civic life in ways that are disturbing and traumatic. We have illustrated this time and again through our case reports and the stories of our clients.
What is needed is openness, trust and dialogue. But first the Bill must be stopped. We urge all those who stand with us in opposing such heavy-handed legislation, to share this article and spread awareness of this catastrophic Bill, not only for Muslims, but also on broader society and communities that choose to dissent.
Once you’ve done that, get in touch as soon as possible with your local MP and demand that they challenge the Bill once it returns to the House of Commons – listing the following reasons:
- It gives undue power to police without adequate checks and balances.
- It expands terrorism offences further away from the traditional sense of violent acts, and even more into the sphere of thought crimes.
- It creates whole new categories of non-criminal acts that the state can intervene in, to deeply censorious effect.
- It will fill up prisons with people who in no way committed acts of violence
- It gives border police new powers to stop, search and detain individuals based on Schedule 7 powers which have been overwhelmingly discriminatory in practice
- By co-opting local authorities further into the Prevent apparatus, it will further draw public services into the realm of securitisation and policing.
- It will have a chilling effect on enquiry, research and freedom of movement and speech.
It is only through informed, unified and courageous action that we can make a change for the better.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)