It will be an offence to view terrorist material online just once -- and could incur a prison sentence of up to 15 years -- under a new UK law.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill has just been granted Royal Assent, updating a previous Act
and bringing new powers to law enforcement to tackle terrorism.
But a controversial inclusion was to update the offence of obtaining information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism so that it now covers
viewing or streaming content online.
Originally, the proposal had been to make it an offence for someone to view material three or more times -- but the three strikes idea has been dropped from the final Act.
The government said that the
existing laws didn't capture the nuance in changing methods for distribution and consumption of terrorist content -- and so added a new clause into the 2019 Act making it an offence to view (or otherwise access) any terrorist material online. This means
that, technically, anyone who clicked on a link to such material could be caught by the law.
The bill threatens investigative journalism and academic research by making it a crime to view material online that could be helpful to a terrorist. This would deter investigative journalists from doing their work and would make academic research
into terrorism difficult or impossible.
New border powers in the bill could put journalists' confidential sources at risk. The bill's border security measures would mean that journalists could be forced to answer questions or hand
over material that would reveal the identity of a confidential source. These new powers could be exercised without any grounds for suspicion.
The bill also endangers freedom of expression in other ways. It would make it an offence
to express an opinion in support of a proscribed (terrorist) organisation in a way that is reckless as to whether this could encourage another person to support the organisation. This would apply even if the reckless person was making the statement to
one other person in a private home.
The bill would criminalise the publication of a picture or video clip of an item of clothing or for example a flag in a way that aroused suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a
terrorist organisation. This would cover, for example, someone taking a picture of themselves at home and posting it online.
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy said: The fundamentally flawed Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill
should be sent back to the drawing board. It is not fit for purpose and it would limit freedom of expression, journalism and academic research in a way that should be completely unacceptable in a democratic country.
The government is amending its Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill with regards to criminalising accessing terrorism related content on the internet.
MPs, peers and the United Nations have already raised human rights concerns over
pre-existing measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which proposed to make accessing propaganda online on three or more different occasions a criminal offence.
The Joint Human Rights Committee found the wording of the law
vague and told the government it violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The committee concluded in July:
This clause may capture academic and journalistic research as well as those with
inquisitive or even foolish minds.
The viewing of material without any associated intentional or reckless harm is, in our view, an unjustified interference with the right to receive information...unless amended, this
implementation of this clause would clearly risk breaching Article 10 of the ECHR and unjustly criminalising the conduct of those with no links to terrorism.
The committee called for officials to narrow the new criminal offence so it
requires terrorist intent and defines how people can legally view terrorist material.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy also chipped accusing the British government of straying towards thought crime with
In response, the government scrapped the three clicks rule entirely and broadened the concept of viewing to make the draft law read:
A person commits an offence if...the person views or otherwise
accesses by means of the internet a document or record containing information of that kind.
It also added a clause saying a reasonable excuse includes:
Having no reason to believe, that the document
or record in question contained, or was likely to contain, information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
Robert Hannigan, a recent director of GCHQ has joined the clamour for internet censorship by US internet monopolies.
Hannigan accused the web giants of doing too little to remove terrorist and extremist content and he threatened that the companies
have a year to reform themselves or face government legislation.
Hannigan suggested tech companies were becoming more powerful than governments, and had a tendency to consider themselves above democracy. But he said he believed their window to
change themselves was closing and he feared most were missing the boat. He predicted that if firms do not take credible action by the end of 2018, governments would start to intervene with legislation.
63. We are already working in partnership with industry and the police to remove terrorist and extremist material. Cooperation with industry has significantly improved in recent years. Removals
at the request of the police have increased from around 60 items a month in 2010, when the unit responsible was first established, to over 4,000 a month in 2015, taking the total to 110,000 pieces of propaganda removed.
However, a fundamental shift in the scale and nature of our response is required to match the huge increase in extremists' use of the internet. This will involve close partnership with the public and industry to do two things: first we need to empower
people to use the internet to challenge extremists online; and second we will work with social media and communications providers to ensure extremists do not have open access to their platforms.
65. To empower those who wish to
challenge extremists online, we will continue to:
support a network of credible commentators who want to challenge the extremists and put forward mainstream views online;
train a wide range of civil society groups to help them build and maintain a
compelling online presence, uploading mainstream content so that the extremist voice is not the only one heard;
run a national programme to make young people more resilient to the risks of radicalisation online and provide
schools and teachers with more support to address the risk posed by online radicalisation; and
build awareness in civil society groups and the public to empower internet users to report extremist content.
66. And we will go further to limit access to extremist content online. In particular we will:
create a group that brings industry, government and the public together to agree ways to limit access to terrorist and extremist content online without compromising the principle of an open internet. We will learn from the
Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which has been successful in tackling child sexual exploitation content online; and
continue to support greater use of filtering, working with industry to develop more effective approaches.
67. Communications service providers have a critical role in tackling extremist content online. We have seen the considerable progress they have made in tackling online Child Sexual Exploitation. We now look to them to step up their
response to protect their users from online extremism. As the Prime Minister made clear in his July 2015 speech,... is now time for radicalisation . We need industry to strengthen their terms and conditions, to ensure fewer pieces of extremist
material appear online, and that any such material is taken down quickly.
68. Using the internet -- both to confront extremist views and limit access to extremist content -- is crucial if we are to challenge extremist ideologies
in our modern society. Alongside this is a need to promote the positive message that it is possible to reconcile your faith identity and national identity. By contesting the online space and presenting compelling alternatives to the extremist worldview,
we will work in partnership with others to keep pace with the extremists' use of the internet.