21 August 2013, 18:06

Britain in line with the US to form a police state

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Scotland Yard had no problems with the legality of David Miranda’s 9-hour detention at Heathrow airport. The use of the Terrorism Act 200 on him was defined by the British police as "legally sound", as it responded to claims that police had misused its power.

This regulation allows British police stop and search passengers at all transportation hubs, like airports, ports, and rail terminals. Unlike the regular police “stop and search” procedure, the “terrorism” variety doesn’t even require “reasonable suspicion” for the person under consideration to be detained. However, the poor suspect’s nightmare doesn’t end there. The police is within its rights to keep the detained passenger for nine hours while the latter is required to "give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests".

The police can also confiscate the suspect’s belongings and retain for as long as 7 days – long enough to spoil one’s vacation. However, information obtained from the smart phones and laptops may be downloaded and those devices can be held for even further. The regulation provides that a detained person must cooperate with the police and not "obstruct" or "frustrate" any police searches – that’s understandable, the genuine Brits always stand for politeness. To jazz the whole thing up, in case the police sees the actions of detained person as unwillingness to cooperate, it will be classified as criminal offense punished by spending up to three months in prison, or a fine, or both.

Once we’ve looked over the letter of the law, Scotland Yard seems to be telling the truth. No misuse of powers has taken place. But it is not the misuse of powers per se, that has been demonstrated at Heathrow airport, but a disturbing proof of how wrong that very “power” is. Miranda’s case drew attention to the details of the so-called Schedule seven regulation and questioned its compliance with general human rights.

The Home Office states that such measures constitute an essential part of the UK’s security and it leaves it to the police to decide to what degree they would want to exercise that security measures on people. The Home Office hopes the police will figure out the way "necessary and proportionate to use these powers"

But who is going to be the judge of that “proportionate power use” they didn’t say. One man’s “proportionate use of power” is another man’s abuse.

"The powers must not be used to stop and question persons for any other [than terrorism] purpose," – the regulation says. Well, how does that help the detained person? If the police proportionately use its powers to stop someone on the grounds of their alleged link to terrorism, what difference would it make whether it is terrorism the person has been detained for or something else? The police just stop and search you for no good reason.

For detaining tips the Home Office suggests that police officers turned to "current and emerging trends in terrorist activity", "individuals or groups whose current or past involvement in acts or threats of terrorism is known or suspected", or "emerging local trends or patterns of travel".

After having listed all the draconian measures, it adds a pinch of tolerance stating a person's perceived ethnic background or religion must not be used as the sole reason for selecting someone.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that such regulations are very flexible and ambiguous and can be bent easily in whatever direction needed. The detention of David Miranda is an excellent example of the regulation abuse for wrong reasons. Human rights group Amnesty International slammed Schedule 7, saying it "violates any principle of fairness," and the detention of Mr Miranda shows "how the law can be abused for petty vindictive reasons".

David Anderson QC, the government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has also questioned the amount of power the police has acquired with this law and its legitimacy: "Anybody can be stopped under this power, there is no need for the police to believe they are a terrorist or to suspect they are a terrorist. [The] only reason they can talk to them is in order to determine whether they are a terrorist, [but] it seems to me there is a question to be answered about whether it should be possible to detain somebody, to keep them for six hours, to download their mobile phone without any need for any suspicion at all.”

Anderson also pointed out that there are already several cases processed both in London and Strasbourg courts dealing the Schedule 7 compliance with the general human rights legislation.

According to his most recent review, he found Schedule 7 was applied on 61,145 people in 2012-13 - 12% less than in 2011, and 30% less than in 2009-10, with the majority of the questioning not exceeding 15 minutes. In 2011-2012 only 24 terrorism-related arrests were made, which constitutes 0.03% of those examined.

It goes without saying that costs of terrorism are a heavy weight, with all the lives lost, property damaged, even long lines through metal detectors at the airports and major public events. We are told to welcome and tolerate any measures against this modern plague, but how would that help if the countermeasures are eventually becoming just as dangerous for people as terrorism itself? Stalin also promised to be good to righteous communists and only kill “enemies of the people.”

Such hypervigilance is already bordering on violation of human rights, it won’t take long until, under the guise of the fight with terrorism, governments will cross the line and turn their countries into police states.

Such policies undermine the whole nature of freedom, causing a long-lasting damage. According to Robin Gill in the Guardian’s David Miranda case exposes the costs of perceived terrorist threat article, the long-term costs of losing freedom are contrary to the “fabric of our [British] culture, unimagined by Osama bin Laden but eagerly seized upon by our governments (not just the present one) and factions of our security apparatus”. Added to the unhindered omnipresent surveillance of the of the online private information, policies like Schedule 7 if not dealt with will logically and inevitably lead to George Orwell’s obscure speculations come true.

To prevent the kind of moral assaults as the one performed on David Miranda, Gill suggests drafting a special charter that would protect the rights in the light of the terrorist threat, which, though a top priority, is still not an excuse to clamp down on basic freedoms. Security services are essential for the country as long as they operate fully within interests not only of the country’s government and protect its immunity, but its people as well.

All in all, the Terrorism Act itself requires a very close consideration and needs balancing measures, because otherwise, in the light of the recent events especially, it looks an awful lot like one of them authoritarian “Big Brother is watching you” measures.

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