New UK laws mean clicking on terrorism propaganda can incur prison time

13 Feb 2019

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Anyone in the UK who views terrorist propaganda once online risks a jail sentence under a controversial new law.

A new piece of legislation in the UK has been given royal assent, or approval by the Queen, and it includes a rule that has given human rights groups pause for thought.

Controversial terrorism propaganda bill

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill updates a previous act, allowing UK law enforcement to wield new powers in the fight against terrorism. According to The Register, one of the elements of the bill was to update the offence of obtaining information related to terrorism to include viewing or streaming online content.

The rules had already been criticised by human rights organisations. Originally, the creators had planned to implement a three-strikes rule, but this concept was dropped from the final draft bill.

The new law has also increased the maximum penalty for some types of offences including preparing to commit terrorist crimes. Collection of terrorism propaganda now carries the potential for 15 years’ imprisonment.

MPs voiced their concerns

According to The Independent, MPs serving on the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights had criticised several of the clauses in October 2018. These included the illegality of making statements in support of a banned group, as well as the threat of jail over a single instance of accessing terrorist information online.

The MPs said: “The committee believes that this is a breach of the right to receive information, and remain concerned that this offence risks criminalising legitimate research and curiosity.”

UN inspector Prof Joe Cannataci said the one-click rule was “arbitrary”, adding: “It seems to be pushing a bit too much towards thought crime … the difference between forming the intention to do something and then actually carrying out the act is still fundamental to criminal law.”

The government insists that anyone with “a reasonable excuse” for viewing such materials would be protected from prosecution.

A UK Home Office spokesperson said: “There are cases where suspects have become radicalised to the point of planning attacks, at least in part because of the volume and nature of terrorist material they are accessing online. The ‘reasonable excuse’ defence continues to be available.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects