The new UK Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 means that you could face up to 15 years in jail if you visit web pages where you can obtain information that’s deemed to be useful to ‘committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

Really?

The government states that the Act is needed to “make provision in relation to terrorism; to make provision enabling persons at ports and borders to be questioned for national security and other related purposes; and for connected purposes”.

As shown online in at legislation.gov.uk, Chaper1, Section 3 of the Act, which relates to the amended Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (collection of information) for example, states that unless you’re carrying out work as a journalist, or for academic research, if a person “views, or otherwise accesses, by means of the internet a document or record containing information of that kind” i.e. (new subsection) information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, you can be punished under the new Act.

Longer Sentences

The new Act increases the sentences from The Terrorism Act 2000, so that a sentence of 15 years is now possible in some circumstances.

The Most Terror Deaths in Europe in 2017

A Europol Report showed that the UK suffered more deaths as a result of terror attacks than any other country in Europe in 2017.  The bill which has now become the new law was first introduced on 6th June 2018 after calls to for urgent action to deal with terrorism, following three terrorist attacks on the UK within 3 months back in 2017.

Online Problem

One of the key areas that it is hoped the law will help to tackle is how the internet and particularly social media can be used to recruit, radicalise and raise money.

Criticism

The new Act, which received royal assent on 12th February, has been criticised by some as being inflexible, based too much upon ‘thought crime’, and being likely to affect more of those at the receiving end of information rather than those producing and distributing it.  The new law has also been criticised for infringing upon the privacy and freedom of individuals to freely browse the internet in private without fear of criminal repercussion, as long as that browsing doesn’t contribute to the dissemination of materials that incite violent or intolerant behaviour.

The new Act has been further criticised by MPs for breaching human rights and has been criticised by legal experts such as Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, who is reported as saying that the new law may be likely to catch far too many people, and that a 15-year prison is “difficult to countenance when nothing is to be done with the material, it is not passed to a third party, and it is not being collected for a terrorist purpose.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

We may assume that most people will be unlikely to willingly view the kind of material that could result in a prison sentence, and many in the UK are likely to welcome a law that provides greater protection against those who plan and commit terror attacks or who are seeking to use online means to recruit, radicalise and raise money.  The worry is that such a law should not be so stringent and inflexible as to punish those who are not viewing or collecting material for terrorist purposes, and there are clearly many prominent commentators who believe that this law may do this.

Businesses, organisations and venues of all kinds are often caught up in (or are the focus of) terror attacks and/or must ensure that they invest in security and other measures to make sure that their customers, staff and other stakeholders are protected.  A safer environment for all in the UK is, of course, welcome, but many would argue that this should not be at the expense of the levels of freedom and privacy that we currently enjoy.