Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Anti-Terror Powers - The Devil Is NOT In The Detail

It's a quiet news period and the lobbyists at the senior levels of the police have been busy again. Yesterday's Guardian reported an anonymous briefing to journalist Vikram Dodd, which said that senior officers are demanding new anti-terrorism stop & search powers to replace section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was struck down by the courts. The 'compromise' they are proposing is a time limit to focus these powers around a particular event - such as an international summit and. inevitably, the Olympics in 2012.

The closer we get to the Games, the more it's likely to become an convenient excuse for ever more draconian security powers. It hardly requires a vivid imagination to see the impact of a geographically specific power to stop and search people in poor and ethnically diverse areas like Stratford and its surrounding communities. If you are young, male, black or Muslim - especially if you are all four - then it's almost certain that you'll have discretionary police powers used against you again and again. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for anyone who decides to mount a protest, however peaceful, anywhere near the Olympic site in 2012.

It doesn't matter, of course, that anti-terrorism stop and search powers simply do not work - in 2009, there wasn't a single arrest made for terrorism offences following more than 100,000 stops under section 44. That's not the point. The plan is to create a tightly-controlled 'exclusion zone' around the Olympics in 18 months time and that means the return of powers that inevitably are deeply discriminatory. I can foresee too that the 'extraordinary circumstances' of the Olympics will lead to an exemption to any proposed restriction of these powers for a"specific period of 24 to 48 hours".

What I find really infuriating, furthermore, is the incredibly stupid comments from the director Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. It's as if her endless search for respectability has given her short-term memory loss. "The devil will be in the detail", she says. No it's NOT. Policing powers that are used in a racially discriminatory way, that have never had adequate safeguards or public scrutiny but make absolutely no difference whatsoever to preventing acts of terrorism should be opposed immediately - or what on earth is the point of an organisation like Liberty even existing?

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