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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Getting the balance right on civil liberties

Over at the Guardian, Simon Jenkins raises some very serious doubts around the extraordinary proposal by the Home Secretary this week that personal information possessed by MI5 on some 20,000 British “suspected” citizens should be declassified and shared with local authorities, police “and others” in order to “counter terrorism”. He makes the point that in these circumstances there is no way such material can possibly stay secret:

Since no one knows if they are on this list, they have no way of countering or correcting false identification or information. No one giving information to the state, including possibly the identity of the giver, will be able to trust its secrecy. Indeed if the list is not declared or even vetted, the suspicion must be that any MI5 intelligence on individuals will no longer be secret. This is not just a police state but an insecure state. Parliament should demand instant clarification.

He acknowledges that some of the Home Secretary's proposals are sensible:

It is right to combat all conspiracies at their roots, rather than just respond to their consequences. The government’s much-derided Prevent strategy, focusing on radicalisation in schools, prisons and religious institutions, was ham-fisted. But behind almost every terrorist incident is some deed of radicalisation. Prevention at source has to be the way forward, and that relies on intelligence within the community – and trust in that intelligence. But if such prevention is perhaps weakened by a respect for human and civil rights so be it. That is the price of freedom. Home secretaries are entrusted with guarding that freedom.

He suggests that Sajid Javid is now in danger of capitulating to terrorism’s prime goal, which is to undermine the liberties and dignities of the state. He says there has to be a balance of risk:

Terrorists aim to change our way of life. They want to show our much-vaunted freedoms and tolerances to be a sham. The one thing not to do is suggest they might be right. 

That seems to me to be a reasonable rule of thumb to assess any measures coming forward from government on this issue.
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