electrohippies Occasional Paper No.5, November 2001

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill: an analysis of the proposals in the Bill and their impact on the Internet and campaigning by grassroots groups

Prepared by the electrohippie collective

In mid-November, the electrohippie collective began its 'anti-TWAT' campaign. Whilst beginning with a focus on the war in Afghanistan, the real issue at the heart of this campaign is to highlight the extreme measures now being promoted by many states, especially the UK and the USA, to counteract the 'terrorist threat'. The detailed perspective on why an 'anti-TWAT' action is required was outlined in our Occasional Paper No.4, and paper 4 should be read alongside this paper in order to fully comprehend the points being made here. This briefing goes further, to look at the implications of the new anti-terrorism powers proposed in the wake of September 11th in the UK.

During 2000, the UK Government updated it's surveillance and anti-terrorism laws, implementing a series of measures under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Terrorism Act 2000 that were far more restrictive than any other set of laws impacting the rights of civil society in the western world. But in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the UK Government is now proposing, through the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, to move the frontier of terrfrontier of terrorism and surveillance law far further. This Bill is not a specific set of measures intended to address a specific threat. It is a mish-mash of measures cleared out of the cupboards of Whitehall mandarins, and which use the media panic created around the September 11th attacks to justify their implementation, with as little public debate as possible through an expedited Parliamentary process.

The justification for these measures is the need to pursue The War Against Terrorism (TWAT). But as a reading of the Bill shows, and as echoed by many commentators and Parliamentarians, this Bill has no clear focus, no clear program, and is really a package of measures, some of which may be justifiable in their own right, but which collectively make up a package of measures that threatens civil liberties in the UK. The problem in considering the impacts of this Bill are a result of its method of compilation; the Bill augments other areas of security, anti-terrorism and surveillance law. What we have to consider then is the total effect of the measures proposed in the Bill when combined with the existing body of legislation. The other issue is the blurring of the distinction between 'order' and 'terrorism' that these new laws create. This issue is outlined in detail in our occasional paper no.4, and it repeated at points in this paper.

In tackling these proposals, we believe that grassroots groups should address the following priorities:

General outline of the Bill

The Bill has 13 Parts, and a number of Schedules. Four Parts of the Bill have, in our opinion, specific impacts on campaign groups, and these are considered in detail in this briefing. The other areas of the Bill are outlined below:

Accessing information on the Bill/anti-terrorism law

At the time of writing the Bill has just completed its first review in the House of Commons (the UK's lower house) and is now moving on to the House of Lords (the UK's upper house). The Bill survived its Commons stages intact, due mainly to the Government's large majority. But in the House of Lords the Government's majority is theoretical, and so there is a greater chance that the Bill may be modified. Even so, using the Parliament Act, the Government could still force these proposals through, although it would push the completion time for the Bill to beyond the late-December 2001 target set by the Home Secretary. The precise way forward on tackling the Bill is outlined in the introduction to the paper above, and in the 'conclusion' to this paper.

This paper, together with our occasional paper no.4, outlines the main issues that those active in campaign groups, or those using the Internet to communicate and campaign, should consider. For those interested in this area, and developing their knowledge further, the following sites on the Internet may prove useful:

Note also that the 'Virtual Library' of the Free Range Activism Website will be establishing new pages on 'civl rights', 'surveillance' and 'the war against terrorism'.

Part 3 – 'Disclosure of information' (clauses 17 to 20)

The Home Office's summary of the Bill Part 3 of the Bill:

This sounds very simple, and the content of clauses 17 to 20 is fairly unenlightening. The more interesting part is Schedule 4 of the Bill which fills in the detail of the legislation affected by Part 3. By allowing information to be routinely passed between agencies of the state – not centrally but as a series of units comprising the police, or the security services, or Whitehall civil servants – it creates a greater likelihood that those undertaking investigations will be able to 'go fishing' for information. In turn, these agencies of the state are able to extend their ability to monitor the activities of 'suspects', and then find the data to fit their expectation of that person's guilt.

The concern must be that the passing of data between government agencies, and the useies, and the use of that data as part of matching or profiling activities, may result in the harassment or wrongful accusation of those in society who do not lead 'model' lives. This does not only include those who may have a background of offending, or misbehaviour, but also those involved in protest action or political activism. It is difficult to write any clear scenario for how Part 3 of the Bill may affect civil liberties because there are no clear instances where those investigating crime or terrorism may use these new powers. But, as has been the case with the misuse of data from the Police National Computer, or the misuse of information obtained as part of criminal investigations, what will condemn these new procedures is not the theoretical use of this information, but the abuses this new system of data sharing between agencies will permit.

Part 8, 'Civil Nuclear Security' (clauses 76 to 82)

This Part of the Bill is of great importance to those engaged in campaigning against nuclear weapons or nuclear power.

The summary of the Bill states that the proposals in Part 8:

In practice the Bill could be used as a way of restricting the disclosure of information on the activities undertaken at nuclear establishments. Of particular significance are:

The management of radioactive waste will become an ever more pressing issue over the next few years. This is because many of the nuclear plants now operational will close and begin decommissioning. There is also the issue of promoting more nuclear power stations as part of a review of government energy policy, most likely sited at the same locations as existing sites. Over the next few years there will therefore not only be a debate on new plantsbate on new plants, but across the country many new radioactive waste stores will have to be opened to hold the waste being produced at an ever increasing rate as nuclear plants are closed.

These new laws may well be used as a means of intimidation against disclosures about the storage or treatment of radioactive waste. This intimidation may be used against those campaigning against such facilities. But it may be that these new laws are most effectively used against the staff at nuclear installations blowing the whistle about standards at the site.

Part 11, 'Retention of Communications Data' (clauses 102 to 106)

The significance of communications data is discussed at length in our occasional paper no.4. Communications data is often portrayed as less significant than the disclosure about the content of the communications themselves, but the electrohippie collective disagree. In our view communications data is more significant because:

According to the summary of the Bill, Part 11 is significant for the future investigation of crime and terrorism:

However, there is no convincing body of evidence yet advanced to support the governments position. In many ways, we can compare the proposals on communications data to the proposals for CCTV in the late 1980s. CCTV has had a debatable impact, in that it displaces rather than prevents crime, and has been responsible for some serious invasions of privacy due to the circulation or sale of tapes from CCTV operations. Likewise, the monitoring of communications data may result in those who deliberately wish to mask their communications finding technological means to avoid creating patterns – a good recent example being the means drug dealers have used recently to avoid detection using multiple, pre-paid mobile phones. Therefore, the only real targets of this legislation will be the public.

In actuality, these proposals areese proposals are not part of a post-September 11th agenda. They tidy-up an oversight in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which required companies to give access to their communications data, but did not require the back storage of this information for convenient use by the state. It is also a significant part of the Cybercrime Convention, which long before September 11th was setting up systems to allow not only the monitoring of communications data by the state, but also the disclosure of this data between states. In no way can the government claim that the significance of communications data has become important to the security agenda post-September 11th.

The issue that must be debated in relation to the use of communications data is not whether it is useful, but rather whether the databasing of all communications data, and its use potentially months or years after the events that created it, has an damaging impact on civil liberties. At the level of the level of the single individual, communications data has specific meaning, and has limited application beyond the actions of the individual. But at the societal level, databases of communications data can be used to profile entire groups effortlessly by computer, and in turn this information could then be used to influence or harass those persons.

As outlined in our occasional paper no.4 in relation to the political uses of information about trade unions or pressure groups, the use of communications data has no harmful effects in a benign democracy. But where issues are politicised, politicians may order the police or security services to use their resources to influence groups in society for political ends. In this way the databasing of communications data for later use, rather than its collection from a point where a person is under suspicion of wrongdoing, is a direct threat to human rights.

Part 13, 'Third pillar of the European Union' (clauses 109/110)

The 'third pillar' of the EU is a new area of involvement where common issues involving domestic security are discussed at the European level. There are obvious benefits in working at the European level to tackle crime that is organised across the continent. But there are also dangers, in particular the differences of legal codes, and the interpretation of legal standards, between states.

The summary of the Bill states:

The immediate impact of Part 13 will be enabling the introduction of new regulations governing 'Euro-warrants' – fast-track arrest and extradition warrants that will work between states within the European Union (EU). It means that new measures can be enacted via secondary legislation by the executive rather than having to be fully debated by the legislature. This has serious implications for civil rights.

Unlike other areas of EU policy, such as trade or environmental standards, the deliberations of the EU on security and home affairs are not open to public scrutiny. It should be noted that the gag over disclosures relating to these joint commto these joint committees is not only effective in this country, but in other European states too. This was demonstrated in relation to recent negotiations on the use of communications data as part of the Cybercrime Treaty negotiations. Therefore, these proposals potentially open a gap between public accountability and the introduction of new security or policing arrangements, because the deliberation on these issues at the European level is not subject to public scrutiny, and at the same time the introduction of these measures by secondary legislation restricts the ability of law makers to scrutinise these measures at the national level too.

Potentially, Part 13 would enable new legislative mechanisms that have been the result of very little public scrutiny or debate to be enacted in the UK. This is therefore an issue of political representation as well as civil rights.

Conclusion: where next?

Occasional paper no.4 highlights the general issues around The War Against Terrorism – TWAT. The purpose of this paper is to concentrate that general view into specific parts of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.

In our view, Parts 3 and 11 work directly to create a more monolithic system of state investigation and surveillance. There is nothing inherently wrong in this, but the merging of the information assets of different arms of the state, so removing the judicial oversight currently required through the issuing of warrants in order to obtain information, is damaging to civil liberties because of the potential for the political direction of the police or security services. In the past the check on such politicisation the role of the police or security services has been the judicial regulation of warrants, and the control on the flow of information between different arms of government. This Bill effectively circumvents these processes.

In relation to Part 8, there is a risk that measures designed to prevent terrorists attacking nuclear installations may instead be used to prevent information about the standards or safety of radioactive materials held at nuclear facilities becoming public knowledge. This is particularly significant given the massive expansion of nuclear facilities required over the next 10 years to deal with the waste arising from the decommissioning of nuclear power and research facilities. There is also the issue surrounding the potential expansion of nuclear power as part of the government new energy policy, to be revealed shortly, and the significance of the waficance of the waste issue as part of this process.

Finally, Part 13 is significant not because of the introduction of European co-operation on security issues. It is that by enabling the output of these deliberations to be enacted via secondary legislation almost all public scrutiny of these proposals is excluded. Not only is public involvement in secondary legislation limited, but the public involvement at the European-level negotiations is virtually zero also. Part 13 is purely an argument about transparency and public involvement in the development of common security and legislative standards.

In the view of the electrohippie collective, the nature of this Bill justifies the organising of an online action to highlight the contents of this Bill, being given an all too-hasty passage through Parliament on the back of the September 11th attacks, and the failure of the government to engage in a open debate about the serious implications for civil liberties of the use of communications data. Therefore the collective will be organising online events to enable people to express their dissatisfaction with these measures. But more than that, should these measures become law, we will actively work to develop actions and initiatives that challenge the validity of these proposals, online and offline.

Those interested in becoming actively involved in developing actions to highlight the offensive implication for civil liberties of the anti-terrorism and TWAT measures currently being developed in the UK and other states should get in touch with the electrohippie collective at ehippies@fraw.org.uk.

© 2001 the electrohippie collective. Produced by Paul Mobbs. Released under the GNU Free Documentation License
(with invariant sections being the document title and author identification, no front-cover texts, and no back-cover texts).