Reducing the risk posed to the public and preventing the development of safe spaces in which terrorists might operate are at the very heart of an updated Counter-Terrorism Strategy launched this morning by newly-installed Home Secretary Sajid Javid during a speech delivered in central London.
The threat from terrorism is shifting and evolving, both here in the UK and globally. A marked shift was demonstrated by the appalling attacks in London and Manchester last year which cost the lives of 36 innocent people and changed those of many more. These episodes prompted a fundamental review of the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy – CONTEST – to respond to the scale of the threat and the speed with which plots are now developing.
The end result of that review process is a new, more agile, flexible and co-ordinated approach designed to better prevent, detect and disrupt terrorist attacks. Where attacks do slip through the security net, the objective of the new Counter-Terrorism Strategy is to limit their impact and recover swiftly from them.
Central to the new Counter-Terrorism Strategy is partnership working at the international, national and local level between Government, involved agencies, the private sector and communities.
Delivering his first keynote speech on security to an audience of community leaders, academics and counter-terrorism experts, Sajid Javid said: “As Home Secretary, my priority will always be to keep our country safe. The threat from terrorism is one of the starkest we face, and it’s clear that, of late, there has been a step change. The biggest threat is from Islamist terrorism, and particularly so from Daesh, but extreme right-wing terrorism is also an increasing threat. Both exploit grievances, distort the truth and undermine the values that hold us together.”
Javid went on to state: “As the threat evolves, so must our response. Ultimately, our approach is about ensuring that there are no safe spaces for terrorists to operate – internationally, in the UK or online. Our greatest strength lies not only in what we do, but also in who we are and the values and freedoms we hold dear. That’s why everyone has a part to play in confronting terrorism. I want to say to all those who stand up against all forms of extremism that this Government stands with you. I stand with you. There is more for us all to do.”
Advent of new legislation
The Government’s revised Counter-Terrorism Strategy will be underpinned by new legislation to enable the police and the Security Services to disrupt terrorist threats on an earlier footing. This legislation will:
*amend existing terrorism offences to update them for the digital age, reflect contemporary patterns of radicalisation and close gaps in their scope, including making it an offence to repeatedly view streamed video content online
*strengthen the sentencing framework for terrorism, including by increasing the maximum penalty for certain offences, to ensure that the punishment properly reflects the crime and better prevent re-offending
*enable further terrorism offences committed overseas to be prosecuted in UK Courts of Law
Responding to the recommendations of MI5 and National Counter-Terrorism Policing’s Operational Improvement Review into the 2017 terrorist attacks (which was overseen by David Anderson QC), new multi-agency approaches – initially in London, Manchester and the West Midlands – will involve MI5 and the police service using and sharing information more widely, working with partners such as local authorities to improve understanding about those at risk of involvement in terrorism and enable a wider range of interventions.
Through the Prevent agenda, the Government, local authorities, the police service and communities will continue to safeguard and support vulnerable people from the risk of being drawn into terrorism, working with a wide network of partners to prevent radicalisation and build resilience.
Work to enable those who have already engaged in terrorism to withdraw and rehabilitate will be further developed, including through the expansion of the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (a new element of Prevent).
Closer working with the private sector
The Government has also pledged to work more closely with the private sector on a range of issues including protecting the nation’s economic and physical infrastructure, gaining faster alerts to suspicious purchases, continuing to make it difficult for terrorists to use the Internet for propaganda dissemination purposes and ensuring that there’s always critical access to communications.
Just as terrorists seek to exploit technology, the Home Secretary has confirmed that the Government will harness developments in technology including machine learning and quantum computing which have the potential to dramatically change and enhance counter-terror operational capabilities.
The Home Secretary also reaffirmed his commitment to the UK’s leading role on the international stage when it comes to in tackling terrorism, committing to the Global Coalition’s campaign against Daesh and focusing specifically on raising global aviation security standards and preventing terrorist use of the Internet.
The Home Secretary will be travelling to the United States on Friday 8 June to attend the next meeting of the Global Internet Forum on tackling counter-terrorism.
Critical response from Liberty
Responding to the Government’s announcement in critical fashion, Liberty’s advocacy director Corey Stoughton said: “Terrorism is a serious issue deserving serious thought. Sadly, this ‘strategy’ is a regurgitation of failed thinking. It’s heavy on soundbites and light on substance.”
Stoughton added: “The Government continues to use dangerously vague definitions of extremism to tarnish communities, encourage policing by prejudice and press service providers and local authorities into becoming unwilling and untrained agents of the Security Services.”
In conclusion, Stoughton observed: “Yet again, the Government attacks encryption and talks up data analytics while offering no actual proposals and no explanation of how our privacy and cyber security will be protected. If and when the Government comes up with something concrete we’ll be scrutinising it closely.”
*For a full transcript of Sajid Javid’s speech access the Home Office’s website