02 December 2008

Publish and Be Damned?

If you were wondering why I have been rabbiting on about police raids on alleged leakers, here's the reason:

The new Counter Terrorism Bill, currently in The Lords, contains an amendment to Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This amendment will make it an offence, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, to publish or elicit information about any police constable "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Furthermore, Schedule 7 of the Bill applies this amendment to internet service providers and web hosting services. This means they will have a legal duty to remove all sites perceived to fall under this offence, and has provisions for use at home and abroad.

It is unclear what information will be classed as “useful” to terrorists, but due to this ambiguous wording, the Bill has implications for bloggers, journalists, photographers, activists and anyone who values freedom of speech.

It is hard to see what exactly this Bill is trying to do that isn't already coverd by the reams of similar legislation that has been passed recently. What kind of information about the police is so sacred? Why not pass a law about firemen, doctors or sewage workers - all people working on critical parts of society's infrastructure? Actually, I'm sure that's the next stage in this creeping lockdown of democracy.

This is yet another case of bad law predicated on a bad premise: that you can "fight" terrorism by passing increasingly Draconian measures. In fact, this is actually counterproductive: it takes away the liberties of people without giving them any security. It simply does the terrorists' work for them.

Moreover, the scope for abuse is huge: what exactly does "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" mean? Presumably, it would be useful for a "terrorist" to have pictures of police officers, so presumably *any* photography will be illegal. Which means - conveniently - that it will be impossible to photograph officers abusing their power.

Indeed, it could be argued - and probably will - that publishing any information desdribing police bullying or general stupidity is "useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" in some vague, general sense, because it is bound to give away some details of police activities, which are therefore potentially useful.

Clearly, this law will have a chilling effect not just on people wanting to leak information that is embarrassing to the government - since it becomes even harder to resist exaggerated responses of the kind we have seen recently - but on any kind of journalism or blogging about civil liberties. The sickening slide towards the police state continues apace.


Anonymous said...

Frankly appalling. I can't believe that thinking politicians are passing this kind of short-sighted, foolish, legislation. What on earth are they thinking of? It tends to demonstrate how the commons has been disenfranchised.

We desperately need thinking politicians who don't just follow party whips/ministers who are only interested in their next media sound-bite.

Glyn Moody said...

Indeed; I just can't understand how we've got into this mess so fast.