Terror Watchdog Criticises Legislation

5946829399_e633991652_oJournalists and publishers are at risk of being branded as terrorists, warns a report into the UK’s terrorism legislation.

The report entitled The Terrorism Acts in 2013 was authored by Professor David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. It covered topics such as the use of stop and search powers by the police as well as how often Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was used to question and/or detain travelers.

Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) section considered the definition of terrorism and under what circumstances terrorism legislation could be applied. Looking at the judgement in the case of David Miranda Professor Anderson highlighted the fact that “the publication (or threatened publication) of words may equally constitute terrorist action”.

As Professor Anderson explained the ruling raises the possibility that the author of a book, newspaper article or blog could be treated in the same way as a person who carries out more recognisable forms of terrorism, such as “shootings” or “hostage takings”.

All that is needed for this to happen is for the published material to be judged to be for the “purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause, designed to influence the government and liable to endanger life, or create a serious risk to health or safety.”

The report goes on to suggest some, admittedly extreme, but nonetheless important, hypothetical results of this. They include:

  • The possession of any article for a purpose connected with the publication, or any document likely to be useful to persons publishing material of that kind, would be punishable by up to 15 years or 10 years in prison (TA 2000 sections 57, 58).
  • Acts preparatory to publication would be punishable by life imprisonment (TA 2006 section 5).

Almost as worrying are the effects that these kinds of interpretations can have on the general public. The report warns that applying terrorism legislation to individuals who are clearly not terrorists can risk “destroying the trust upon which” anti-terror laws rely.

As Big Brother Watch argued at the time of David Miranda’s detention, it is vitally important that laws are used for the purposes for which they are passed. Terrorism legislation should be used to curtail terror related activity, not target journalists and other innocent individuals who have no intention of committing any such crimes.

This is not an isolated case; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has repeatedly been shown to be out of date and open to broad interpretations when applied to newer forms of communication. Recently it has been announced, by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, that there will be a “full review” into how RIPA functions. Similar steps must now be taken to address the problems of the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation.