As the Home Secretary tries to scare us all into accepting the government’s unpopular new anti-terror laws – which would allow police to detain those suspected of terrorism related offences for 42 days – let us remind ourselves what these laws are being used for:
A family who were wrongly suspected of lying on a school application form have discovered that their local council used anti-terrorism surveillance powers to spy on them.
The family, from Poole in Dorset, said they had been tailed for three weeks by council officials trying to establish whether they had given a false address in an attempt to get their three-year-old daughter a place at a heavily oversubscribed local nursery school, which their two older children had attended. The family had in fact done nothing wrong, and the investigation was eventually aborted.
Yesterday it emerged that Poole borough council had legitimately used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to monitor the family. This involved keeping a detailed log of their movements for two weeks, following the mother’s car as she took her three children to school each day and even watching the family home to ascertain their sleeping habits.
The Act, passed in 2000, was supposed to allow security agencies to combat terrorism.
The 39-year-old mother, a businesswoman who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I can’t imagine a greater invasion of our privacy. I’m incensed that legislation designed to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old. It was very creepy when we found out that people had been watching us and making notes. Councils should be protecting children, not spying on them.”
The council defended its right to investigate families in a covert manner, saying it had used the law twice in the past year to successfully prove parents were lying about where they lived.
Erm, right. But isn’t the law being used for something other than its purpose? Isn’t lying about where you live to get your kids into a school a little less serious than terrorism?
On those claims by Smith, do you suppose it is a coincidence that a series of high-profile terrorism cases are taking place at this time? I do wonder:
In the News of the World interview, Ms Smith said security services were investigating up to 30 terror plots.
She said: “We now face a threat level that is severe. It’s not getting any less, it’s actually growing.
“There are 2,000 individuals they are monitoring. There are 200 networks. There are 30 active plots.
“That has increased over the past two years. Since the beginning of 2007, 57 people have been convicted on terrorist plots.
“Nearly half of those pleaded guilty so this is not some figment of the imagination. It is a real risk and a real issue we need to respond to.
“We can’t wait for an attack to succeed and then rush in new powers. We’ve got to stay ahead.”
Under the proposals the home secretary would be able to immediately extend the detention limit of a suspect to 42 days, so long as it was supported by a joint report by a chief constable and the director of public prosecutions.
The extension would then have to be approved by the Commons and the Lords within 30 days. But if either House voted against it, the power would end at midnight on the day of the debate.
The proposals are supported by some senior police officers – but could face a court challenge from the Equality and Human Rights Commission if passed.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the shadow security minister and chair of the joint intelligence committee, told the BBC she did not agree with the government’s approach.
“If there are an increase in plots it doesn’t follow, I fear, that the right way to deal with that is actually then to hold suspects for an even longer time.
“What you need if you’ve got an increase in plots is the right quantum of resources for both the police and the intelligence services to track and disrupt the plots – and that’s a question of bringing resources to bear.”
And since the motivating factor for would-be terrorists appears to be the unpopular wars in the Middle East with the US – why not kill two birds with one stone and bring the troops home?