Home Cyber Government moves to tighten the law in bid to target terrorists’ use of the Internet

Government moves to tighten the law in bid to target terrorists’ use of the Internet

by Brian Sims

Counter-terrorism laws are to be updated to keep pace with modern online behaviour and address the issue of online radicalisation, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced. The Government intends to change the law such that those individuals who repeatedly view terrorist content online could face up to 15 years behind bars.

The proposed changes are designed to strengthen the existing offence of possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist (Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000) such that it applies to material viewed repeatedly or streamed online. Currently, this power only applies to online material which has been downloaded and stored on the offender’s computer, is saved on a separate device or printed off as a hard copy.

The move to tighten the law around the viewing of terrorist material comes as part of a wide-ranging review of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy in the wake of this year’s terror attacks, and will help in providing an important and effective way of intervening earlier in an investigation and disrupting terrorist activity.

The legal changes will also increase the maximum penalty if found guilty from ten to 15 years’ imprisonment in order to reflect the seriousness of the offence and ensure that perpetrators are locked up for longer periods.

The new maximum penalty of 15 years behind bars will also apply to terrorists who publish information about members of the Armed Forces, the police and the Security and Intelligence Services for the purposes of preparing acts of terrorism (Section 58a of the Terrorism Act 2000). There have been a number of prosecutions for terrorism offences which have featured Armed Forces personnel (or military establishments) as targets for attacks, including last year’s successful conviction of Junead Khan for planning to attack personnel at a USAF airbase in Norfolk and of those responsible for the horrific murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

The updated offence will ensure that only those found to repeatedly view online terrorist material will be captured by the law. This will serve to safeguard those who click on an Internet link by mistake or who could argue that they did so out of curiosity rather than with any criminal intent in mind.

A defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ would still be available to academics, journalists or others who may have a legitimate reason to view such material.

Consultation launched into new right of appeal at Investigatory Powers Tribunal

Security Minister Ben Wallace

Security Minister Ben Wallace

A public consultation on draft rules governing proceedings at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has been launched by Security Minister Ben Wallace.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which received Royal Assent in November last year, introduced a right of appeal from decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. This forms part of a range of reforms to the oversight of the Security and Intelligence Services and the use of investigatory powers.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal provides a right of redress for anyone who believes they’ve been the victim of unlawful action by a public authority improperly using covert investigative techniques. It’s also the appropriate forum to consider claims alleging the infringement of Human Rights which are brought against the Security and Intelligence Services.

The consultation of the draft revised rules, which is open for six weeks, asks for views on the changes to the rules which govern the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The draft rule changes reflect the new right of appeal as well as updating the existing rules to mirror the evolution of Investigatory Powers Tribunal practice and procedure since they were written back in 2000.

The right of appeal will be available in limited circumstances where there’s a point of law that raises an important point of principle or practice, or where there’s some other compelling reason for allowing an appeal to be heard.

Ben Wallace explained: “The Investigatory Powers Tribunal is a crucial way in which to help ensure the activities of our Security and Intelligence Services and law enforcement agencies carried out to keep us all safe and secure are authorised, necessary and proportionate. I’m pleased to confirm that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is content with the draft update to the rules which allows a right of appeal. We’re now seeking wider views, and in particular on the proposed changes. All responses are welcome and will be carefully considered.”

The consultation comes as part of implementing the world-leading oversight regime being created by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The Act brings together powers already available to the Security and Intelligence Services and law enforcement to obtain communications and data about communications. It ensures that these powers – and, indeed, the safeguards that apply to them – are both clear and understandable.

What’s more, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 radically overhauls the way in which these powers are authorised and overseen (including through the creation of a powerful new Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee how these powers are used) and also ensures that the powers are fit for the digital age.

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