Anti-terrorism proposals outlined by the Government today will include a sex-offenders style register for those convicted of terrorism offences, and will allow MI5 to access the UK's large and fast-growing DNA database. These measures come on top of the anticipated bid to increase the length of pre-charge questioning time for terror suspects, which will also be included in the Counter-terrorism Bill.
This is as yet to be published, and backgrounders so far fail to specify what the Government intends to increase questioning time to, from its current already-bracing 28 days. Details of other aspects of the Bill are similarly hazy.
The MI5 access to the DNA database is described as a "minor legislative amendment", intended to allow MI5 to check DNA samples it collects against the national database, but the change adds a potentially powerful weapon to the arsenal of an organisation engaged in extensive surveillance activities.
And exponentially growing ones at that. In one of those coincidences we've come to expect from the current regime, the new Number Two of MI5, Jonathan Evans,* made his first public speech yesterday, to the Society of Editors. Evans upped his predecessor's estimate of there being 1,600 terrorist threats in the UK to 2,000, then doubled it to 4,000 for good measure. He only suspects there's a total of 4,000, which must mean the 2,000 are merely suspected of being suspects, or just suspected of being.
The 'terror-offenders register' is meanwhile to be populated by "notification orders". Those convicted of terrorist offences would be required to keep police informed of their current address, and of addresses where he or she is to stay for five nights or over. Offences now classed as terrorism-related include incitement, encouragement, possession of information and providing instruction, with linking to sites and/or possession of widely-available files being sufficient to prove these. So the numbers on the terror register could potentially grow quite rapidly, albeit not for another six years or more.
This register could possibly also be applied to the subjects of control orders; these have been subject to repeated legal challenge, and have also proved embarrassingly unenforceable whenever any of the victims actually decides to escape. Look ma, no tags. That would of course mean the register covering suspects alongside the convicted, but that's what control orders currently cover anyway. Details of what precisely the Government intends to do will however have to wait until the Bill is published. ®
Spookwatch: We think it worth pointing out that despite the claims in Evans' speech of an extensive and pervasive al-Qaeda directed campaign against the UK, not a single one of the terrorism prosecutions (Evans claims 200 scalps here) has produced one single proven and public link to a single controlling al-Qaeda intelligence, even a quite minor one. We accept that MI5 could have information that it is unable to disclose, but all of the time? That is suspicious, and becomes more so as the trials roll on.
And we shouldn't let an alleged Evans' biographical update pass unnoticed. Effectively, it's a denial. Former IRA informer Kevin Fulton claims that Evans was "Bob", his controller. Bob, says Fulton, helped him go to the US in order to buy infra-red controllers for IRA bombs. These would be sabotaged so that the IRA's bombs wouldn't go off. So long as the IRA didn't fix them first. According to the Times, however, the bio update is intended to rule this out, and the paper reports that although security sources confirm he worked on Irish counter-terrorism, he has "never lived or served in Northern Ireland." The text of the bio currently on the MI5 site still leaves plenty of space for unorthodox covert activities to be fitted in, but we trust it will be updated.