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Terrorism & Security

British government under fire for controversial antiterror bill

The plan, which would allow suspected terrorists to be detained for 42 days without charge, faces broad opposition.

By / January 25, 2008

The government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces broad opposition to its just-published antiterrorism bill, which would controversially allow suspected terrorists to be held for up to 42 days without charge.

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The Financial Times reports that the government made public the Counter Terrorism Bill on Thursday, with much of the focus on the expanded detention provision, an increase from the current 28-day maximum.

Ministers, supported by senior police chiefs and some government security advisers, argue that terror plots are becoming more complex, both in terms of their international dimension and the use of encrypted technology, so that more time may be needed to investigate before a suspect is freed....
However critics say existing laws already give the government powers to declare a national emergency in exceptional circumstances, and that the latest proposal is an unnecessary encroachment on civil liberties.

The Financial Times report notes that the bill includes other measures that have not met with such opposition.

The Bill contains less controversial measures, including new powers allowing police to question suspects after they have been charged, and provision for the private sector to finance additional protection of key gas sites.
New offences created by the Bill include that of communicating, publishing, or eliciting information from members of the armed forces which might be of use to a terrorist.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith defended the extension to 42 days as a necessary tool in the event of a terrorist strike, especially if the threat to Britain is growing, reports the BBC.

Ms Smith declared: "We face a choice here. We can either sit on our hands, failing to recognise where there is a broad consensus that this is a risk that is growing and that we might well face in the future.
"We can risk having to legislate in an emergency in the future, we can risk, as some people believe we should do, having to declare a national emergency in order to be able to do it.
"Or we can legislate now - with the discussion that will be put in Parliament on the safeguards and on the circumstances in which it would be used - and have that available in the future," she said.

But Britain's Labour government faces a tough sell. The BBC notes that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the new bill, and feel they're echoing the public mood. And in an interview with The Times of London, Conservative Party leader David Cameron accused Prime Minister Gordon Brown of using the ant-terror bill to tar Labour's political opposition.

"I am afraid that he sees this as a totally political weapon: let us try and make the Tories look soft on terror. That is my problem with our Prime Minister: he looks at every single issue from the point of view of what is the right dividing line that divides me from my opponent, not what is right for the country, and I think that is what he is doing here."

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