New measures will give the police the power to make people they believe to be “creating a threat to the function of democracy” check their communications with the police first even if they are acting within the law
DAVID CAMERON’S new ‘anti-extremism’ proposals which will see new powers for police and security services to spy on and disrupt legal activities deemed to be extremist have been criticised by a Scottish civil liberties group as “draconian”.
The new proposals, outlined by the prime minister and Home Secretary Theresa May on Wednesday, were previously proposed under the last coalition government between the Tories and the Lib Dems, but were red lined by the Lib Dems on the grounds that they were an attack on free speech.
The plans would see the police being granted the power to apply to the high court to limit “harmful activities” of an “extremist” individual defined as “creating a threat to the function of democracy”, even if it that person was acting within the law.
This would include being able to force individuals to submit emails, social media messages and broadcasts to the police first, up to and including messages about the limits the police were putting on their activities.
Richard Haley from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities told CommonSpace that he believed Cameron was “scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something even more draconian” than the measures that were previously brought in by preceding governments.
“It really goes back to Tony Blair and the so-called ‘war on terror’ – building a narrative of ‘extremism’, that goes beyond terrorism and violent acts to attacking peoples basic freedoms.”
In announcing the new measures, which will be in the government’s Queen’s Speech, Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.”
Haley said that he was shocked by Cameron’s justification of the proposed changes.
“I thought that being left alone by the state if you obey the law was a pillar of liberal democracy, to redefine that as a “passively tolerant society” really is quite alarming.”
May admitted that the new laws would have a wide remit to include “extremism of all sorts…that is seeking to promote hatred, that is seeking to divide our society, that is seeking to undermine the very values that make us a great country to live in.”
Haley said that May’s language of challenging “extremism of all sorts” could be used as a cover to attack all organisations challenging the state, including environmental activists and anti-cuts groups.
“We’ve seen this before, and therefore what these measures are is a continuation of things that were informally happening – the role of security services in undermining environmental groups has been uncovered – but they want to give them a legal mandate to do these things,” Haley said.
The Cage advocacy and human rights organisation for communities affected by the UK and US government ‘war on terror’ tweeted: “Banning people who by your own definition are not violent is against British and universal values.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson responded to Cameron’s statement by telling CommonSpace that tackling “violent extremism” was a responsibility “we all share”.
The spokesperson added: “The Scottish Government is clear any new counter-extremism legislation would have significant implications across a number of devolved areas. We expect the UK Government to work closely with us to consider the proposals and whether they are appropriate and meet the needs of Scotland’s communities.”
Picture courtesy of Paul Townsend