The Guardian has a .pdf version of the controvesial Draft Terrorism Bill 2005 online, something which neither the Home Office nor the Parliament websites could be bothered to do on Thursday.
Depressingly, this Home Office seems to be a repeating the same tactics as the controversial Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, i.e. a long and complicated portmanteau Bill, with some very controversial parts, such as the detention without charge extension from 14 days to 3 months, whilst also including masses of complicated new offences, almost all of which are already covered by existing legislation.
It will be intolerable if the Liberal Democrat and Conservative opposition parties get diverted in trying to obtain "concessions" about whether the power of internment without charge should be as long as 3 months or not, and they let through the rest of the clauses, such as the removal of the need for the Home Secretary to personally sign warrants under the Rgulation of Investigatory Powers Act -(delgation not to a Judge, but some faceless bureacrat or other), "on the nod", without proper debate, like they have done in the past.
What is the justification for 3 months detention without charge ? It is not necessary to complete the analysis of all the forensic material at the scene of a terrorist atrocity, identifying every victim etc, before the first charge can be laid against a suspect.
If more forensic science resources are required, then why hasn't the Government provided the money for them already, instead of trying to privatise the Foresnic Science Service ?
Yet again, the NuLabour Home Office is proposing serious criminal offences, to do with publications etc., with a reversed burden of proof i.e. which the accused has to prove his or her innocence, rather than the prosecution having to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are guilty of something specific.
No terrorist or terrorist sympathiser ever calls themselves a terrorist, they describe themselves, and often genuinely believe , that they are freedom fighters, liberators, defenders of the faith, soldiers etc.
The use of the word "public" as the target audience for allegedly terrorist publications which "glorify" etc. acts of terrorism looks like another bit of sloppy Home Office thinking.
What about, say, Islamic extremist website which has nothiing too extreme on the public internet sections, but which has more extreme stuff in private, password protected "elite only" areas ? It must surely be a defence that this sort of material is not actually for public consumption, but only to the chosen elite/gullible new recruits to the terrorist group/death cult ?
The "20 year historical exemption" makes no sense either. Why is the government trying to re-write history and to ban even the mention of things which have already happened in the past ? Are previously published books and online archives now to be censored , seized or destroyed ? Revenge and hatred for ancient historical grievances is still part of the cultural backgroubnd which breeds terrorism even today. e.g. Ireland, Armenia, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Israel/Palestine etc. which strech beyond the arbitaray "20 year" exemption.
"Dissemination of terrorist publications" is also going to cause problems.
What about when Al Quaeda release a video or audio statemnt, which gets copied and then broadcast, in Arabic, on say Al Jazeera or other foreign media. If, as what then usually happens, the BBC, Sky, ITV, etc TV media literally pirate and steal the Al Jazeera satellite feed, without permission, and re-broadcast it, with an English translation, then how are they not liabale under this proposed power ? They cannot claim the defence that they were simply transmitting the material, en passant, like a public telecommunications provider, without being aware of the content, especially as the BIll only requires some of the audience to interpret the news report as a terrorist statement, incitement, glorification etc.
"such that it is likely to be understood as such an encouragement or other inducement by some or all of the persons to whom it is or is likely to be available in consequence of that conduct."
It appears that this Bill is attempting to censor the rest of the world, outside of the direct jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Similarly it is also trying to censor and supress foreign language publications as well.
The tinkering with even more complicated offences regarding trespassing within the outer fences of Civil Nuclear Power Stations (which already have "trespassers will be shot" signs on them, and an armed Atomice Energy Police force), or Radioactive substances is unecessary and is entirely coverd by existing laws already
A possible life sentence for the such a vaguely defined offence as "Preparation of terrorist acts", either actually "committing" or merely "assisting", is intolerable. This must be defined much more explicitly.
What exactly is this offence meant to cover , which is not already covered in the existing Terrorism Act 2000 ?
"The training for terrorism" offences are somehow in addition to "weapons training" (explosives, firearms, chemical, biological and nuclear weaposns training is already an offence under the Terrorism Act), and only appear to cover "noxious substances", the possesion of which is already illegal under the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 Section 7, where they are defined. What on earth is this section meant to cover ? Medical or Biochemical textbooks ? These are already illegal if used for "a terrorist purpose" under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Why does this Draft Bill try to amend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to reduce the oversight of warrants, by making them last longer before they have to be renewed ? The oversight in this area is weak enough as it is, and these changes apply not just to terrorism investigations, but to general "serious crimes" as well.
This did not appear in the ACPO "shopping list". There are several other things on this "shopping list", notably to do with the "disruption" or cyber attacks on foreign websites, which are not mentioned in this Draft Bill, but which may sneak into the full Bill when it is published, probably, in October.
It appears that the Home Secretary Charles Clarke can no longer be bothered to personally sign warrants issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001, or the Intelligence Services Act 1994 - the Bill has provisions to delegate the signing of such warrants to designated officials.
So much for the alleged safeguard of "political judgement" or "Ministerial accountability to Parliament" - will Charles Clarke resign if one of his officials is too zealous in signing such warrants, or will he just blame his subordinates ? He already appears to have form for not actaully bothering to read the details of the first Control Orders which he "signed".
The names or at least the roles and job titles of the people who the Home Secretary delegates his authority and public responsibilities to, when signing such warrants and orders, must be made public. How will people know if they are legally valid warrants or not, if they have been signed by some official who nobody at the "sharp end" has ever heard of ? The Home Office do not seem to be set up to make use of Electronic Digital Signatures, after all.
If the workload of running the surveillance state is too much for one person, then the proper response should be to delegate the power to sign such warrants not to faceless bureaucrats, but to real, independent Judges, a system which works well in other countries, and which does not compromise security.
If this Draft Terrorism Bill 2005 is made into law, we will not be any safer from terrorists.
How can Home Secretary Charles Clarke or Prime Minister Tony Blair sincerely claim that these provisions are not in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998 e.g. the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech etc. ?