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Security theatre

Link: Security theatre | Samizdata.net.

Johnathan Pearce over at ever-good-value Samizdata has posted an interesting account (linked above) of being caught up in a Terrorism Act 2000, section 44 search in London. The comments are entertaining (if rather "salty" at times) but I particularly want to draw your attention to Guy Herbert's excellent account of "mission creep" since the original Act was passed. The assurances given to Parliament about the Act's "stop and search powers" (i.e. they would be used on the authorisation of a senior officer if there was specific intelligence of a terrorist attack) have been set at naught. Poor initial drafting, coupled with subsequent changes, mean it can now be used randomly. Do read the whole thing but the following extracts should be enough to make your blood boil:

The power is authorised by a chief police officer for a specific area for a specific time. It was sold to parliament on the grounds that it might be needed on specific information of an impending terrorist attack or in the aftermath of an actual one. That is not how it has in fact been used ... It emerged sometime in 2004 that the whole of London had been made in secret subject to such an authorisation indefinitely. This was a bit embarrassing so was cancelled, but seems to have been replaced by a rolling succession of such orders.

The original theory was:

    (1) The power conferred by an authorisation under section 44(1) or (2)—

(a) may be exercised only for the purpose of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism, and

(b) may be exercised whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind.

So it could be random, but only if the purpose of the search is terrorism related...

There's a useful discussion of the power itself with judicial authority here ...

... if you are searched ... the revised PACE code of practice B will apply ... So regardless of the grounds (or lack of grounds) ... they can take (and prosecute you for) anything they find on you regardless that this power is a 'special' terrorism power. The Act therefore enables random searches or targeted searches against individuals or descriptions of individuals that are indeed for all practical purposes fishing expeditions.

Where are the MP's of all parties who were misled by the government about this? Why are they not doing the job we pay them for? Are they all incompetent or uncaring? When you hear ministers justifying "special" powers to deal with terrorist threats, please bear in mind that this is what happens in practice. You cannot safely believe a single word they utter.

I suspect Johnathan's experience has some connection to the government's current plans further to extend the period for detention of suspects without trial. Some "security theatre" (rather like Blair's infamous deployment of tanks to Heathrow) is just what our Jacqui needs to get her measures through.

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