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Home Secretary calls for more liberty-curtailing counter-terrorism powers

Home Secretary calls for more liberty-curtailing counter-terrorism powers

Categories: Latest News

Thursday October 02 2014

BBC News, ITV News, Sky News, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Financial Times have all reported on the Home Secretary’s speech to the Conservative conference this year in which she put flesh on the bones of proposals outlined in the taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report last year concerning so called ‘terror ASBOS’.

Theresa May, opened her speech by deploring the effects of stop and search upon ethnic minorities and the discriminatory manner in which the powers have been applied with statistics showing black and Asian people are more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.

May then spent a considerable time elaborating on terrorist threats, in particular the threat posed by ISIS. May outlined the government’s counter-terrorism initiatives as well as the party’s proposal of banning orders and ‘extreme disruption’ orders in the next Conservative manifesto.

May stated “We are toughening up the charity rules and the powers of the Charity Commission, working with Ofcom to deal with extremist broadcasts, improving the inspection regime and strengthening the rules for schools. We are working with the Ministry of Justice to tackle radicalisation in prisons, demanding more from universities to prevent radicalisation on campus, and improving our ability to take down terrorist material from the internet.”

These ideas initially appeared in the Tackling Radicalisation Taskforce report which claimed extremist groups were abusing charities for terror-financing and made further recommendations such as ‘excluding’ speakers from universities and working with ISPs to remove material from the web.

Theresa May highlighted other current government policies including her power to strip British nationals who plan to travel to Syria and Iraq of citizenship.

The Home Secretary emphasised that the government is “working with families and community groups across the country to remind people how they can alleviate the suffering of civilians in Iraq and Syria without actually travelling there”. It seems a moot point however, given that a growing number of Muslim charities are increasingly facing problems in providing humanitarian aid due to statutory inquiries into their operations by the Charity Commission and banks withdrawing their services. These issues have raised concerns of bias against Muslim charities.

Theresa May declared that a new Counter-Terrorism Bill will be introduced by the end of November which will increase police powers to seize a person’s passport at the border, prevent their travel and investigate the individual in question. This was previously announced by David Cameron earlier this month in a parliamentary debate following the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.

In addition, the Home Secretary called for a further increase in police powers by reviving the Communications Data Bill. However, May seems to have overlooked the fact that the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) annulled the European “data retention directive” on internet and phone communications which allowed internet and phone companies to store data on who contacts whom, when, how often, and from which locations. The directive was ruled to have amounted to ‘interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.” It will be interesting to see how the party hopes to navigate around this though with talk of scrapping the Human Rights Act it appears that the party has already determined how it plans to scupper the protests of civil rights campaigners to the Comms Data Bill.

The Home Secretary also revealed that, under a Conservative government, Prevent will become “a statutory duty for all public sector organisations”.

She further stated that banning orders and ‘extreme disruption’ orders will be introduced. She claimed it will target “extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism” and those “who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred.”

Moreover, Theresa May announced the Home Office would assume responsibility for devising and overseeing “a new counter-extremism strategy” reversing an earlier decision about cross-departmental responsibility for Prevent. Given her recent spat with former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, amid claims that he awarded the Quilliam Foundation £120,000 from the Department for Education budget, the desire to tighten Home Office control over implementing Prevent policy probably lies behind this policy announcement.

She added “its [Prevent] implementation will be the responsibility of the whole of government, the rest of the public sector, and wider civil society. It will aim to undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms – neo-Nazism and other forms of extremism as well as Islamist extremism.”

However, the majority of the policies highlighted in her speech focused very much on “Islamist extremism”, much as the Extremism Taskforce report and the CONTEST annual report has done.

In fact, the Government’s over-occupation with ‘Islamist extremism’ and its near exclusion of tackling far right extremism as a policy objective has already been alluded to in an interview
with a Home Office whistleblower
. While the Government has made appropriate noises about ‘all forms of extremism’ its policy focus has largely been ‘Islamist extremism’ with little regard for the growing threat posed by the far right.

The Guardian editorial yesterday explored the Home Secretary’s determination to deny ‘extremist preachers’ the ‘oxygen of publicity’ by introducing broadcasting restrictions which were once used to deny IRA spokespeople access to the UK’s airwaves. The policy was a failure with broadcasters using actors for voiceovers thereby evading the law.

May sounded a warning against the UK sleepwalking “into separation, segregation and sectarianism”, a variation of Trevor Phillips’ forewarning in 2005. Yet it is worth noting that Phillips’ observed that British Muslim communities’ were doing their ‘damnedest’ to integrate despite overwhelmingly negative media coverage about Islam and Muslims in the British press. 


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