15:36, June 06 38 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-06 15:36:29
Anti-terrorism plans 'will make thought crime a reality'

Anti-terrorism proposals have been unveiled by the UK government that would make it an offence for people to publicly support a banned group even if they did not encourage others to do so.

The move has prompted the human rights group Liberty to accuse the government of trying to “make thought crime a reality”.

Liberty said it was alarmed at the plans to amend existing offences under the planned counter-terrorism and border security bill, details of which were announced on Wednesday.

Fact sheets about the bill, published on the Home Office website, explained – said the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders – the need to “adapt to combatting the threat from international terrorism in a modern digital world”.

The proposed amendments making it easier to target people who support proscribed groups such as Islamic State would include a potential offence of displaying an associated flag or item of clothing.

A key change would be the illegality of making statements supporting a terrorist group while “being reckless as to whether others will be encouraged to support the organisation”. Prosecutors would not have to prove the statements had actually had a recruiting effect on others.

The fact sheet on the subject anticipates possible objections, such as interference with freedom of speech. It stresses that it would not be “unlawful to hold a private view in support of a terrorist organisation”, only to “recklessly express those views, with the risk others could be influenced”.

The fact sheet says: “It is right to criminalise those who make clear expressions of support for terrorist organisations, and who are reckless as to whether that will encourage others to support the organisation.

“This type of activity can lead to a real risk of harm to the public. We believe that radicalisation, be it deliberate or reckless, should be illegal, in order to stop support for these groups and to protect the public.”

Other proposals include one to make it clear in law that it would be an offence to view terrorist material online three or more times, or to communicate banned material to someone who does not understand they are being incited, such as a child or vulnerable person.

Rachel Robinson, Liberty’s policy manager, said the combined proposals “would make thought crime a reality”.

“Blurring the boundary between thought and action by locking people up simply for exploring ideas undermines the foundations of our criminal justice system,” she said. “Terrorists’ primary goal is to undermine our freedom. With proposals like this, the government risks giving them exactly what they want.”

Planned changes include amending the crime of collecting information likely to be useful to a terrorist, to cover repeated viewing or streaming of material online; increasing to 15 years the maximum jail term for “preparatory” crimes such as collecting terrorist information or encouragement of terrorism; and increasing from two to five years the maximum period that fingerprints and DNA samples may be retained on national security grounds where a person has not been convicted of an offence.

Topics