Defend civil liberties!

Submitted by AWL on 21 July, 2005 - 6:56

By Mike Rowley

There is every sign that the Government plans to use the terrorist atrocities in London as a cover for accelerating its attacks on civil liberties.

On 19 July the Government got support from the Lib Dems and Tories for new laws, to be introduced before the end of the year, which will create a dangerously catch-all crime of “indirect incitement” to terrorism.

It has been widely predicted that Parliamentary opposition to the government’s proposed introduction of identity cards will diminish in the light of the bombings. The predictions may be right, although linking the two, as Charles Clarke is doing, makes no sense in rational terms.

The bombers were British citizens who had no previous convictions and would have had perfectly valid ID cards under Clarke’s or, indeed, any conceivable scheme. The only way to use identity cards to prevent Islamist terrorism would be an apartheid-like system of issuing diffent cards to people on the basis of their ethnic origin or religious affiliation. That is a road that not even Charles Clarke would go down.

Indeed, Clarke admitted on the Today programme that identity cards would not “prevent any particular act. I doubt it would have made a difference.” So, if they won’t increase public safety, what are they for?

Clarke claims that ID cards will “help rather than hinder” by making it easier to track terrorists and making it harder for them to use false documents to buy mobile phones, etc. This is a specious argument. If the terrorists are not known to police they will not be tracked and will not need false documents. Even if they are known to police, it is surely not past them to steal a mobile phone.

Furthermore, a recent report from the London School of Economics warns that the identity card scheme could backfire. “A fully integrated national system of this complexity and importance will be technologically precarious and could itself become a target for attack by terrorists or others,” it says. The report has also gained publicity for its estimate of the cost of the scheme — between £10.6 and £19.2 billion, compared with the government’s already enormous estimate of £5.8 billion.

A website seeking people to pledge to refuse to register for the cards has signed up over 10,000 people and raised more than £100,000 for legal defence within a month (www.pledgebank.com/refuse).

Meanwhile, mainstream newspapers in the United States, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have carried disgusting articles referring to “Londonistan” and saying that British Islamists are likely to remain a major threat to the United States because there are still civil rights in Britain and our country has “open borders” (try telling that to imprisoned asylum-seekers!)

Clarke is also trying to persuade the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties to back his proposals to allow the police to store large amounts of personal mobile phone, internet and email records for a period of one year. Two months ago the committee rejected a similar proposal on the grounds that it breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (respect for privacy) and that, in any case, the amount of data that would be stored in one year was so immense that it would take European police forces 100 years to analyse it all!

Clearly these proposals are not much use in terms of fighting terrorism. What they are useful for, however, is expanding the government’s arsenal of repressive laws to be use against protesters and dissidents of all kinds. They must be stopped.

* A man detained in Iraq without charge or trial on suspicion of terrorism is to challenge his detention under the European Convention on Human Rights, by which the British Army, which is holding him, is obliged to abide.

The British government argues that the effect of UN Security Council Resolution 1546, passed in June 2004, was to remove all human rights protection from terror suspects in Iraq and to authorise a system of indefinite detention without trial. In legal terms, this argument is dubious: the Security Council is a political, not a juridical body and its decisions have no effect on rights contained in international law. In moral terms, it is an outrage.

* A 15-year-old has won a High Court challenge to the legality of child curfew zones. He had committed no crime, and obtained a landmark, if somewhat obvious, ruling that anti-social behaviour legislation cannot be used against those not engaged in anti-social behaviour.

In a statement after the ruling, “W”, as he is being referred to for legal reasons, said: “Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I’ve done something wrong. But they shouldn’t be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I’m under 16.”

Until this ruling, any unaccompanied child under 16 who ventured into a curfew zone when the ban was in force — usually after 9pm — was liable to arrest and forced escort home, regardless of whether they were suspected of any crime. W’s lawyers argued that, in a democracy, only those suspected of wrongdoing should be subject to sanctions such as curfews and arrest. In fact, this principle existed considerably before democracy, in the Magna Carta, but even such feudal niceties are too liberal for Charles Clarke.

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