Monday, November 07, 2005

National Insecurity

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, resorting to claiming national security as a justification can't be far off. Tony reckons that's the reason he continues to back the 90-day detention period for people suspected of involvement in terrorism. (Hat tip to Talk Politics for the Telegraph link)

That's a little cheap. Not as cheap as Charles Clarke's dodgy survey, which has rightly attracted ridicule for the blatant attempt to produce ammunition to use against recalcitrant Labour MPs, but cheap nonetheless. Apparently, the party aren't planning on using the data returned any time soon - perhaps because the answers aren't what they expected.

The thing is, the police and security services are allowed to ask for whatever powers they see fit and make the appropriate case for them. The case for 90-day detention is described as 'compelling' - not irrefutable, you would note. While Tony is quite happy to give the police whatever they ask for, last time I checked, members of parliament still owe a duty to weigh that request against the national interest and civil liberties and make a judgement accordingly - especially if the Attorney-General urges caution. You would have thought that Lord Goldsmith would have learnt his lesson after his last advice over Iraq...

Although the government ensured that the whole process would at least be covered by regular judicial review and the police assure us that there are only a few cases where it would be applied, it is certain that if you give the police extra powers, then they will be used.

The police have specific search powers under s44 of the 2000 Terrorist Act, which have been controversially used against protestors outside a defence exhibition in London, against an 82-year old man at the Labour conference, to stop veteran peace protestors from attending a legal demonstration at Fairford in 2003 and even against trainspotters on Basingstoke station. The Daily Telegraph reports that in the first year of the Act, 8000 searches were carried out, but within two years, almost 30,000 were being carried out - despite an apparent review from the Home Office. 600 people were searched under the terms of the Act at the Labour conference

Frankly, I'm not sure how effective the 90-day maximum will be, in any case and I doubt that the few days of extra detention will prevent a single terrorist attack - although we'll all be told that it's our fault when the next bomb goes off. It has been said that the current terrorist tactics of suicide bombs forces the police to make arrests earlier than they normally would in conventional criminal conspiracy cases, but I can't work out how the extra detention period would help - they will still need to pick them up early. I'd also suggest that the moment you pick up a terrorist suspect, they cease to be of practical use in any covert enterprise and that very arrest will disrupt any plans - either by bringing them to a screeching halt or possibly forcing the terrorists to play their hand early. Any information gleaned from the suspect needs to be employed very quickly - nothing is more perishable a commodity than intelligence. Yes, it does take a while to follow up international investigations or decode encrypted data, but it isn't beyond the wit of the good people at Thames House to keep an eye on a handful of suspects released on police bail pending enquries.

And how will this be received in the communities that are already the target of current interest? Will the thought of people being incarcerated for three months encourage young Muslims to raise their suspicions about potential suspects within their community? How will this look to the wider world?

So, pardon me if we're a little caution about extending the powers of the police to lock people up without charge while they trawl for evidence. There's nothing unpatriotic about standing up for civil rights.

'They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety'

Benjamin Franklin


Anonymous said...

It was police and national security advice that lead to the introduction of internment with out trial in Northern Ireland.Look how much good that did.Creating a 3rd class category of citizenship, ethnic groups that are denied basic rights, will not help.And look at what is happening in France.

Richard Allen said...

The way Blair has behaved in the last few days you would think he was a President for life in a former Soviet republic. 90 day detention without charge or trial is despotic and no decent person can support such a move if they are thinking straight.

It's beyond me that there are people in the Labour party who will still defend the bastard.