UK internet users will have to watch where they’re clicking.
The latest legislation in the UK and the hotly discussed one is the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act aimed at terrorism and extremism. The new legislation is a result of counter-terrorism measures developed by the UK government after horrific attacks in London and Manchester. In 2017, these attacks forced the country to rethink its approach to national security.
The new act will significantly increase the investigative capacity and effectiveness of preemptive counter-measures by making people more responsible for the content they are exposed to. The act makes it an offense to watch materials that could be used to plan terrorist attacks. The act makes a clear statement in terms of its seriousness. The maximum penalty for obtaining information related to terrorism is 15 years.
The law takes into consideration research activities and investigative efforts from academics and journalists. However, the act is definitely questionable. It will inevitably affect human rights and may even punish people who are watching inappropriate content to understand better how to behave in dangerous situations or those who are merely curious.
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The act received harsh criticism from the UN. Joseph Cannataci, the special rapporteur, noted that “the difference between forming the intention to do something and then actually carrying out the act is still fundamental to criminal law.”
To fend off some criticism, UK legislators added a “reasonable excuse” clause that describes circumstances in which a person can claim that they were not informed about terrorist propaganda included in the content they were watching. Accidentally activated google search or a joke made near a phone with Alexa activated can easily “make” you a potential terrorist.
Some questions regarding the legislation should be answered now. The UK justice system is based on precedents meaning that the jury is still out on this particular law. Its text may create unforeseen issues related to technology, privacy, and civil rights.
Whether the dystopian future in which we are trying to predict crimes before they happen is an adequate reward for the heavy toll expressed in freedom, we will know soon enough by watching how this new act performs in the UK.