UK Home Secretary David Blunkett today promised to widen the 'terror suspect' net further to impose internet and banking banning orders on people suspected of "acts preparatory to terrorism". Legislation to support this will come in addition to the raft of measures he will announce in the Queen's Speech this coming week, and is not likely to be unveiled prior to the general election expected next year.
In a TV interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, Blunkett said he envisages the proposed new laws as being modeled on Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) which are currently used in the UK to impose restrictions on individuals deemed guilty of a wide (and clearly widening) range of anti-social activities. ASBOs are imposed under civil law, but breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence, and as Dimbleby pointed out, 20 per cent of these orders lead to criminal penalties.
With the sustained reasoning for which he is so justly famous, Blunkett noted the importance of proof in the British legal system, then observed that fixed penalty notices and ASBOs were particularly useful because "police been able to impose penalties without having to go through a prolonged legal system."
His mooted 'Anti-Internet Behaviour Orders' would be more of the same. At the moment Blunkett has powers to detain suspected foreign nationals without trial for as long as he pleases, under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (example of one recently freed here) and is under no obligation to produce evidence against them. Just as ASBOs provide a handy mechanism for generating evidence of criminal activity (breach of the ASBO) the new legislation would provide a route for criminalising terror suspects and terror 'supporters' against whom the security services have no evidence.
Blunkett described the evidence which he does not produce against the detainees as "very strong indeed", and explained "acts preparatory to terrorism" as including giving financial support, "doing runners, mule jobs" (by which he means conveying funds or items supporting terrorism), and "perhaps being able to use computer networks" in a way which could pose a threat. The inclusion of financial support potentially casts the net very widely indeed, as it could allow an order to be made on the suspicion that, say, Islamic financial networks (which are trust-based and leave little in the way of a paper trail) have been used to transfer funds to a terrorist organisation, or to any organisation that the Home Office may choose to categorise as such. The "use of computer networks" has similar potential for fuzzy definitions and the application of evidence lite.
Although Blunkett did not specify foreign nationals as the target when explaining these measures as a natural adjunct to current detention powers, it seems likely that muslims and asians will bear the brunt of them, as has tended to be the case with other terror-related legislation (although as we've seen, the statistics can always be evened out by the employment of anti-terror powers against anti-globalisation protestors as well).
Blunkett says that the new orders will be applied to restrict banking and internet activities, so if the subject goes outside the scope of the order and uses a banking network or uses the internet, "then we can move you from civil into criminal law." So they won't need to prove that you're doing something illegal, they only need to suspect that you might be for them to bar you from using the mechanism you might be using to do it. Tough luck on you if you weren't doing it, but using that mechanism for something else entirely. If you don't stop anyway, you're going to jail.
Blunkett also covered ID cards, but had little new to say there. The meaningless claim that 35 per cent of terrorists use false identities was repeated, the new-look 'Trust Me' Blunkett claimed that the Home Affairs Committee ID scheme report "said they thought we were perfectly justified, it would be effective and it was the right thing to do", which is one of his most extreme perversions of what the Committee said so far, and his tragic faith in the efficacy of "a clean database" was again put on view.
As regards the politics of fear, he accepted that the crime statistics were improving, but explained: "the stats are correct but the nature of crime has shifted. There's a greater perception of thuggery, binge drinking, things that change the quality of life." Which means we need measures that we don't need because decreases in crime merely make us worried about things we didn't think important previously (but which aren't getting worse either). Or something.
The measures, he said, are only giving police "the powers the people have asked for." The people in question being those he's met while "I've been going round the community." 'We've been rebuilding confidence in the lynching system,' as he so nearly said. He might as well have. ®
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