Privacy advocates are likely to be worried at the news that the London Metropolitan Police has charged a man with terrorism offences, one of which deems the accused’s use of encryption as an act of terror.
The man being charged with six different acts of terrorism is 33-year-old Samata Ullah. He was arrested on 22 September on the streets of Cardiff by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command group.
In a press release, the state police force said that Ullah was arrested on the basis that he was believed to be a member of the terrorist organisation ISIS prior to this.
However, the second charge put against Ullah will be of particular interest to those advocating for the right for privacy, as the London police force has said his use of encryption programmes was an act of terrorist training.
“[Ullah] provided instruction or training in the use of encryption programmes, and at the time he provided the instruction or training, he knew that a person receiving it intended to use the skills in which he is being instructed or trained for in connection with the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism, or for assisting the commission or preparation by others of such acts,” the statement said.
Law has history of criticism
The third count then accused Ullah of breaking Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 for “developing an encrypted version of his blog site and publishing the instructions around the use of programme on his blog site”.
This section of the terrorism law has been cited in a number of incidents over the past year, ranging from individuals being charged over suspected terror incidents in Syria, to teenagers being accused of trying to build a bomb based on plans from the internet.
In 2014, London solicitor Tayab Ali spoke with Vice about how section five was very problematic, as it allows for prosecution of acts that would otherwise be deemed legal by the state.
“Section 5 can criminalise acts that, on their own, would be completely legal – if prosecutors can show that the end purpose of those acts might be terrorism,” Ali said at the time.
“Often intention is proven using things like internet search history. I think this is very bad legislation. It is often described as ‘thought crime’. And it doesn’t apply in any other aspect of criminal law.”