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UK's New Counter-Terrorism and Security Act: How Far is Too Far?

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On February 8, 2015, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 (“Act”), the United Kingdom’s newest anti-terrorism legislation, received royal assent.[1] The controversial Act consists of seven parts addressing relevant anti-terrorism concerns in the UK, including: temporary restrictions on travel; terrorism prevention and investigation measures; data retention; aviation, shipping and rail; risk of being drawn into terrorism; amendments of or relating to the Terrorism Act of 2000; and miscellaneous and general concerns.[2] While many are proponents of the strict new measures, critics have expressed concern. In particular, Part 1, restrictions on travel, and Part 5, risks of being drawn into terrorism, have garnered the most criticism.

Part 1, Chapter 1 gives the government broad power to seize passports and travel documents of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism. That section allows, “for the seizure and temporary retention of travel documents where a person is suspected of intending to leave Great Britain or the United Kingdom in connection with terrorism-related activity.” While this provision and its broad and undefined categorization of “terrorism-related activity” is disturbing to some, others feel that this, “important legislation will disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to fight and then return, enhance [the UK’s] ability to monitor and control the actions of those who pose a threat, and combat the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism.”[3]

Act 1, Chapter 2 further outlines the government’s power to temporarily exclude persons from the United Kingdom. That chapter states that the Secretary of State may impose a temporary exclusion order, an order which requires an individual not to return to the United Kingdom, if the following conditions are met: the Secretary of State reasonably suspects that the individual is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity outside the United Kingdom; the Secretary of State reasonably considers that it is necessary, for purposes connected with protecting members of the public in the United Kingdom from a risk of terrorism, for a temporary exclusion order to be imposed on the individual; the Secretary of State reasonably considers that the individual is outside the United Kingdom; the individual has the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and the court gives the Secretary or State permission OR the Secretary of State reasonably considers that the urgency of the case requires a temporary exclusion order to be imposed without obtaining such permission.[4] This broad power afforded to the Secretary of State has raised red flags among many civil-rights groups. Such groups are concerned that the powers granted by the security act to invalidate passports and exclude British nationals from returning to their home countries “push the boundaries of international law.”[5]

Part 5 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act raises an entirely different set of concerns. In particular, Part 5 section 31 addresses the freedom of expression in universities and gives great authority to the government to curb freedom of speech in the name of preventing vulnerable students from being drawn into terrorism.[6] This section places a statutory duty on universities to “take seriously their responsibility to exclude extremist speakers, including requiring advance notice of the content of events.”[7] If university vice-chancellors fail to enforce the new statutory guidance, the government has the power to charge them with contempt of court backed by criminal sanctions.[8] More than 520 university professors signed a letter sent to the Guardian, describing the Act as “unnecessary and ill-conceived.”[9]

The question, then, is whether this new Act goes too far? The Islamic Human Rights Commission would argue that it does. In January, the group described the then-proposed Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill as “Orwellian,” maintaining that the passage of this Bill would be akin to the consolidation of a police state.[10] According to the group, this Act “is yet another attempt by the government to erode [their] civil liberties and further demonise the Muslim community.”[11] Yet in places like the United Kingdom and France, the threat from evolving terrorist organizations like ISIL are real. As of June 2014, it was estimated that up to 400 British citizens were fighting in Syria[12]; that number has continued to rise. Spooked by events like the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, the United Kingdom feels the need to take aggressive, and even potentially drastic, steps to protect their citizens.


[1] Counter-Terror & Security Bill Receives Royal Assent, RT (Feb. 12, 2015), http://rt.com/uk/231755-terror-law-royal-approval/.

[2] Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/6/contents/enacted/data.htm.

[3] Alexis Flynn, Tougher Antiterror Law to Take Effect in UK, The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 12, 2015), http://www.wsj.com/articles/tougher-antiterror-laws-to-take-effect-in-u-k-1423769615.

[4]Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, c. 1, s. 1, available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/6/part/1/chapter/2/crossheading/imposition-of-temporary-exclusion-orders/enacted

[5] Alexis Flynn, Tougher Antiterror Law to Take Effect in UK, The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 12, 2015), http://www.wsj.com/articles/tougher-antiterror-laws-to-take-effect-in-u-k-1423769615.

[6] Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, ch. 6, s. 31, available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/6/section/31/enacted

[7] Alan Travis, Universities Told Counter-Terror Bill Will Not Endanger Freedom of Expression, The Guardian, (Feb. 4 2015), http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/04/universities-counter-terror-bill-freedom-expression.

[8] Alan Travis, Universities Told Counter-Terror Bill Will Not Endanger Freedom of Expression, The Guardian, (Feb. 4 2015), http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/04/universities-counter-terror-bill-freedom-expression.

[9] Alan Travis, Universities Told Counter-Terror Bill Will Not Endanger Freedom of Expression, The Guardian, (Feb. 4 2015), http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/04/universities-counter-terror-bill-freedom-expression.

[10] Proposed Counter Terrorism and Security Bill: An Orwellian Possibility, Islamic Human Rights Commission, (Jan. 13, 2015), http://www.ihrc.org.uk/publications/briefings/11330-proposed-counter-terrorism-and-security-bill-an-orwellian-possibility.

[11] Proposed Counter Terrorism and Security Bill: An Orwellian Possibility, Islamic Human Rights Commission, (Jan. 13, 2015), http://www.ihrc.org.uk/publications/briefings/11330-proposed-counter-terrorism-and-security-bill-an-orwellian-possibility.

[12]Patrick Wintour & Nicholas Watt, Up to 400 British Citizens May Be Fighting in Syria, says William Hague, The Guardian (June 16, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jun/16/400-uk-citizens-fighting-syria-isis-iraq-william-hague.


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