Monday, December 22, 2008 

Quick, slow, Quick, Quick, slow.

(Not Cap'n) Bob's Interceptor.

It's a fitting tribute to the investigatory skills of our finest anti-terrorism officers that Bob Quick should be so, err, quick in pointing the finger at the Tories for "planting" a story in the Mail on Sunday regarding his wife's car hire business, which he then complained was potentially putting his family at risk, despite the family's home address being advertised on a far from inaccessible website.

This is after all meant to be the man who'll be in charge should there be another terrorist attack, someone with qualities such as remaining calm in a crisis, unflappable, not liable to send in CO19 after another Brazilian wearing a denim jacket. Even if we accept that the Tories have indeed being trying their hardest to gain politically from the utterly foolish raid on Damian Green's office, something which judging by the polls they've failed to do, and have also been putting pressure on the Met to drop the inquiry, the level of paranoia Quick is apparently suffering from to immediately pin the blame on the Conservatives - and not just to do it privately, but to brief the Press Association with your suspicions, accusing the party of acting in a "corrupt way" - shows a fairly shocking lack of judgement for again, someone in his position.

Being in the limelight can obviously do very strange things to you, especially when you have been thrust into it unceremoniously and found yourself at the centre of a furore over breaching the very heart of democracy, as can being concerned for the safety of your family. It does make you wonder whether, as well almost being able to act with something approaching impunity, the police also seem to imagine that they can also say anything, regardless of evidence, and also get away with it. Surely the most ill-advised notion of all on Quick's part was that rather than letting the simmering row over Green's arrest die down over Christmas, as it was always going to, followed by the quiet dropping of the inquiry, he has instead brought all the more attention towards himself and invited the accusations that this just overwhelming proves the closeness of the current crop of senior police officers to the incumbent party of government.

The allegations that Sir Ian Blair presided over a politically correct police force were always ridiculous - chance would be a fine thing - but far more dangerous is the idea that Labour and the police are in cahoots, one not helped by the disgraceful initial lobbying by the police for 90 and then 42 days, which only succeeded in turning ever more of those who might have been sympathetic against it. In reality both the Conservatives and Labour have increasingly kow-towed to police demands for new powers or laws, mainly because they turned the prevention of crime into a battle over who could be the toughest. Having failed to provide total job or economic security, governments have instead turned to the idea that they can provide total personal security as a failsafe, when they can of course do neither. Labour's authoritarianism, especially under Brown and Smith, although how quickly we forget past home secretaries and their own excesses, has been more noticeable because Brown cannot defend it as well as Blair could or simply doesn't have the inclination to, and because Smith, like John Reid, actually seems to relish playing the hard (wo)man, an ultra-Blairite thug when being a Blairite has become deeply unfashionable. Combined with her apparent inability to suffer shame when she blames Boris Johnson of all people for politicising the police, you can hardly blame those who have taken to calling her "Jackboots Jacqui". Thing is, if she knew she'd probably wouldn't mind in the slightest.

Similarly, it would be nice to think that Labour's decision to step back from direct elections to police authorities was because it had realised that was unlikely to increase accountability and instead only increase the politicisation of the police - instead it's hard not to imagine it was because they knew it was hardly likely any of their representatives would be the ones to win the popular vote. All sides, Labour, Conservative and the police need to find a way to retreat from their current positions and realise that this is doing none of them any good, but doing that after all consider themselves to be unfairly slurred is easier said than done.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008 

There is a grave exceptional threat from terrorists of mass destruction...

If it wasn't so serious it would almost be funny. The latest safeguard that will stop 42 days detention without charge being used to hold anyone with a beard and funny ideas is that the Home Secretary herself will have to decree that the extension can only be used when there is a "grave exceptional terrorist threat", such as an attack on the level of 7/7 taking place or feared to be about to take place. Like with all the other safeguards, it's both pointless and worthless. We're being constantly reminded that the threat we face from terrorism is, in the words of the ex-head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad Peter Clarke, "deadly and enduring". The brown-trousers-o-meter already declares that the current threat level is "severe", which means an attack is highly likely. How could we possibly tell the difference between a "grave exceptional" threat and the current level?

I mention Clarke because he too has now stepped into the breach with his own article on why 42 days is necessary, while, like Brown yesterday, making no real justification other than that the police have their resources stretched to be able to manage within 28 days. It's not worth fisking in full, but there are some parts that deserve answering:

In August 2004, Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorist Branch officers spent a fortnight sleeping on their office floor. Why? Because they had been given the job of winning the race against time to find evidence of terrorist planning buried in the encrypted files of dozens of computers seized during Operation Rhyme - the investigation into a terrorist network led by Dhiren Barot, the al-Qa'eda planner.

There in a nutshell seems to be the real reason why the police want longer than 28 days. It means they don't have to rush themselves quite as much or sleep on the floor of their offices, and who frankly could disagree with police officers doing such an important job being uncomfortable while protecting the public from evildoers? It's also nice to see that Clarke mentions that Barot's computers were encrypted, meaning that as the law has since changed the police could now charge someone in Barot's position alone for refusing to provide an encryption key to decode the files. Again, whether Barot really did have any genuine links to al-Qaida is unclear - he apparently went to Pakistan to get his plans approved - and returned empty-handed.

Barot was a career terrorist who had been to training camps in Pakistan and the Far East. But we didn't know what stage his plans had reached. We could not be sure that he or other members of his group were not going to launch attacks, even as we watched. The decision was made to arrest them, and they were promptly rounded up in London and Blackburn.

As it turned out, he or his group could not have launched attacks because they didn't have funding, explosives or have even reached the first stages of preparing to launch an attack. All they had was plans, and very asinine plans they were too.

There was not a shred of evidence against them. The intelligence was clear - that he and his gang were planning attacks in this country, but there was no evidence that could be used in court.

At the time, terrorist suspects could be detained for 14 days. In this case, the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place on the morning of the 14th day. It was a very close call. We were minutes away from having to release a group of terrorists. Two years later, they pleaded guilty to plotting to make a dirty bomb and to kill fellow citizens in huge numbers.

Ah yes, either the Coke can dirty bomb or the smoke alarm dirty bomb. It's strange how when discussing these cases that no one, either police or journalists seems prepared to go into the actual details which are nowhere near as frightening or doom-mongering as the popular perception of what a dirty bomb would involve are. Why Clarke is focusing so much on this case is unclear: it shows the system working as it should have done. So does his next example:

This case told us that things had to change. Plots that have been uncovered since Barot, and the attacks on London in 2005, show the terrorist threat is growing in scale and complexity.

Plots where again the system has worked, with three men who were held for 28 days being charged, and another three released after 28 after the "liquid bombs plot". Again, where does this all end? In two years will have the police asking for 60 days because the plots have grown in scale and complexity again, with spurious amounts of data which they've had to go through being used again as the casus belli?

And yet, as Parliament prepares for the debate on the second reading of the Counter Terrorism Bill, we have to brace ourselves for another deluge of politicised comment on the proposal to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held.

The cross-party consensus that, for many years, helped guide the thinking on such issues evaporated in 2005. The parties blame each other for this, but the quality of the public debate has suffered. It is now difficult for counter-terrorist professionals to offer a view without being accused of political partiality.

Could this possibly be because the police in the first case engaged in err, political partiality, supporting the indefensible when it came 90 days? Clarke himself previously why-oh-whyed over the criticism directed the police's way in a speech last year:

I know there have been concerns expressed about the role of the police service in that debate, and whether we overstepped the mark in terms of political neutrality - but I find this slightly puzzling. If we are asked for our professional opinion, and we express it, and the Government brings forward legislation, are we supposed to be silent the moment a draft Bill is published? We were accused of being politically partial, but I reject that.

If Clarke would like to explain how Andy Hayman being asked by the Home Secretary to comment on why 90 days was needed is not the police making a political case or how the Association of Chief Police Officers' intervention prior to the 90 days debate, with officers phoning up MPs urging them to support the legislation is not the police becoming politicised, then I'm sure it would be gratefully received.

In any case, the political consensus collapsed because 90 days were so clearly beyond the pale, as the government now accepts, although the police themselves apparently don't. It's also because the evidence is simply not there for a further extension: it's been the opposition parties that have been the principled ones, holding the same position from the beginning, that beyond 28 day detention without charge is simply not acceptable.

Clarke continues:

For instance, critics claim that the proposal is a draconian extension of police powers. It is not. Detention would be a judicial discretion, to be exercised following an adversarial hearing with both sides legally represented. This would be no rubber stamp. Indeed, the record of the judiciary in challenging the Government in terrorism cases suggests that any application for extended detention will be subject to the sharpest scrutiny.

This is the exact same argument as Clarke made last year, and it was wanting then. The judiciary have been notably active in terrorism cases, but that's where the detention has been arbitrary, either indefinite or where those accused have been held under control orders. Where they have not been so active or so forceful is where the evidence against the accused has not just been around intelligence, and where they are in police rather than prison custody or under house arrest. The police case is almost always going to be stronger, making clear that the individual is a major potential threat while the defence will have to argue purely on civil liberty grounds; the judiciary, put in such a position, will almost always give the police the benefit of the doubt.

Skipping some of the rest which isn't directly relevant to why 42 days is needed so desperately:

When I was asked, in 2005, by the home affairs select committee how many terrorists I had been obliged to let go through lack of time to investigate, I inwardly despaired. It was the wrong question. We should look forward, not back. The fact that we have been able to convict more than 60 terrorists in the last year or so is irrelevant.

This seems more revealing than Clarke admits. It's because the answer is 0; the only organisations that have let some go through supposed lack of time are the security services. There is nothing to suggest that any "terrorists" will ever have to be let go because lack of time.

The better question would have been: "Is it likely that there will come a time when the present 28-day limit is insufficient?" The answer would have been, "undoubtedly". That is why we should legislate now, and not in panic in an emergency.

Except we wouldn't need to panic in an emergency. If there was some dire, dire need to go beyond 28 days, the Civil Contingencies Act could be invoked; the government could temporarily derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights; or the accused could even be charged with a lesser offence while the investigation continued, something that is apparently too obvious to consider. Doing either of the first two options would be worrying and potentially out of proportion with the actual threat posed, but then so is 42 days itself. The government and the police would however find it far more difficult to justify doing either than it would to invoke 42 days under the laughable "grave exceptional" threat when the only reason for extending the limit is so the police can get a little more sleep.

The details of the 42-day detention plan may not be perfect, but the principle of being able to protect the public in extremis must be right. The checks and balances in our system prevent arbitrary detention. The judiciary have repeatedly shown their vigilance and independence. We should trust the judges and give the public the protection they deserve.

And while we're at it - could we try, just for a moment, to take the politics out of this?

But it isn't the judges who are the ones who are proposing this; they're just the ones who'll get the blame if they get it wrong. It's not those who we have to trust, it's the police and the government, and the fact is that we don't trust either. Nothing Clarke or Labour has said is convincing, and those still on the Labour backbenches who are wavering need to continue refusing to countenance the counting dilution of our hard-won civil liberties.

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Monday, July 16, 2007 

Is it that time again already?

Yesterday was Sunday, which must mean that it's time once again to examine the clearly overwhelming and by no means wafer-thin argument for up to 90-days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Or, as this case now appears to be, with both Lord Carlile and Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers speaking of their support for it, indefinite detention without charge.

Jones himself, having given an interview to the Observer, felt the need to argue with the semantics with which the paper had presented his opinion. It took his use of "as long as it takes" to mean potentially indefinite detention, way past even 90 days, for instance. That was most certainly not what he meant, as he also stated that while the police needed to have as long as it takes, they should also not be held for a day longer than it takes, which is obviously a great comfort. Just to be absolutely sure:

"It needs to be as long as is proportionate and necessary, subjected to sufficient judicial checks and balances," Mr Jones told the BBC. "But I can tell you now, Acpo is not calling for indeterminate detention."

So when does as long as is proportionate and necessary not mean as long as it takes, potentially meaning an indefinite period, if someone is considered that dangerous? No answer was the sad reply.

The whole basis of the argument is fatally flawed. As we have seen when previous alleged plots have been foiled, on most occasions there is at a least one or two who are arrested that are subsequently released without charge, as the wife of one of those still being held over the failed car bomb attacks has been, and two other doctors who were also detained. When we start getting into the potential deprivation of liberty from those who are under suspicion for, as Jones himself stated, as long as it takes, even with the judicial oversight being proposed, there is a great possibility that those who are completely innocent will be held for far greater lengths of time than they are currently. Giving in effect carte blanche to the police, only having to inform a judge once a week of how their case is progressing, as is currently the system, will greatly shift the balance from presumed innocence towards presumed guilt, with the police having inordinate amounts of time not just to question the suspects, raising the spectre of the gradual wearing down of suspects as happened in previous decades, but also to keep searching and searching until they find absolutely anything incriminating, even if there is nothing to find.

This is perhaps the ultimate conclusion to the gradual drift away from the principle of being innocent until proved guilty. Since 9/11 we've seen tougher measures introduced year after year, and still, despite Peter Clarke previously stating that the police were now more or less happy with the new offences introduced and the new powers handed across they're not fully satisfied. Rather than these new laws helping to counter the threat, we're now told that there are up to 2000 individuals actively plotting to bring "mass murder" to the streets, up 400 from when Eliza Manningham-Bullshitter delivered her lecture last November. All those arrested now under the Terrorism Act, whether they have been conclusively linked to an attack or not, are effectively guilty until they're proved innocent, and unless the police really cocked up, as in Forest Gate, those that have their lives either temporarily or permanently destroyed as a result of being detained and subsequently released without charge never get so much as an apology.

It's quite true that we have to balance the liberty of ourselves against collective safety, the right not to be blown apart by religious radicals and their deluded, maniacal lust for the 72 virgins in exchange for their souls and their bit towards moving Sharia, the caliphate and withdrawal from Iraq even further away, but we also have to realise that tearing up our hard-won freedoms is never something we should do lightly. We don't know how long this "threat" is going to be with us; it could be 10 years or 100 years, although a figure in the middle is most likely. Once it has dissipated, will we quickly move to restore those original measures? Or is it easier to believe that by then we will have expanded such a scheme far beyond just the realms of terrorism?

Even if we ignore these theoreticals, the actual case for any longer period than 28 days still seems to remain to be made. It doesn't look as though that length of time is going to be needed to deal with the London/Glasgow bombers; the only case in which the full 28 was needed was for a couple of suspects involved in last year's liquid bomb plot, and many assumed that the police were then making a point after the Commons rightly rejected Blair's efforts to introduce 90 days. Previously we were told that the need for longer was because of the vast use of encryption on the computers used by the suspects; Jones this time only mentioned the "complex, global nature" of terrorist cells, which seems to point towards the involvement of other police forces across the globe who don't have the resources to respond in the way which ours can. This certainly isn't much of a justification, and by no means a convincing argument for indefinite periods of detention without charge. Although the police claim that since the 90 days' defeat the reasons for having such a period of time available to the force has changed, it seems unlikely that the entire proposal, put across then by Andy Hayman in a letter which was up on the Home Office website, will differ that much from the case made then. Spy Blog went through them at the time, and found them mostly wanting. Little is likely to have changed.

While we know only too well of this government's contempt for the Human Rights Act, an indefinite period of detention, even monitored more than once a week by the judiciary is likely to fall foul of Article 5. There has to be some sort of limit, whether it's 45, 60, 90, 120 or even 365 days. It may even be that this new consensus on "as long as it takes" is purely a measure to take away the sting from how long 90 days seems looking at it straight, as although there was apparent public support for up to 90 days without charge, there was also a substantial opposition to such a period, which went far beyond the usual civil liberties circles.

The whole thing then is on unquestionably shaky ground. The police, government and everyone else asking for more time though can always depend on one fair-weather friend that will always support such measures:

The Scum

Back our cops

The PM vowed tough action after his first days in power were marred by bomb attacks — and now he must show he means it.

He can start by giving police power to lock up and question suspects for as long as it takes.

See how one simple intervention can change the language used irrevocably?

The 28-day detention limit has left them working with one hand tied behind their backs, cops’ leader Ken Jones warned yesterday.

The Sun has surely picked the wrong metaphor here. Jones' case is not that they're struggling, but that they're racing against time.

Security chiefs are at full stretch watching 2,000 suspects and their warnings must not go unheeded - as in the past.

Ministers did nothing when told terrorists were flooding in because of poor immigration controls. Now we learn one in four terror suspects arrested in Britain is an asylum-seeker.

Seems odd - previously we were worried because of all the homegrown bombers, now we're scared again because the Glasgow/London attempts at explosions were by foreign born suspects that all the terrorists are immigrants. Not sure what difference the fact one in four terror suspects is an asylum-seeker makes either; are we going to start refusing those fleeing tyranny, war and insurgencies of their own refuge because 20 years down the line they might become terrorists themselves? It's something unfortunately that we're going to have to deal with, and it'd be nice for once to forget about finding someone to blame for it.

Hate preacher Abu Hamza had poisoned hundreds of young Muslim minds before they heeded The Sun’s call to lock him up.

Ah yes, it was the Sun wot did it! If anything, it seems that most of those who went to see Hamza's sermons and speeches were already radicalised in some way, even if they weren't then prepared to act. He's a useful hate figure, but little more.

Mr Brown cannot afford more delays or mistakes. He must raise the limit NOW.

More bitch-slapping. Anyway, he can't raise it NOW, he needs parliament to agree too, something which isn't going to happen until the autumn at the earliest, and that's if it concurs, something currently looking rightly unlikely.

Two weeks ago, he said he would not yield to terrorists. Nor must he yield to the civil liberties brigade.

Except the Sun is urging him yield. More freedom lost, while the "civil liberties brigade" can at least claim to be on the side of innocence until proven guilty, even if the opposition can more emotively depend on the imagery of the blood-splattered streets of July the 7th.

He must show strong leadership by giving police the tools to get on with the job.

Except they have them, they just want more time to be able to use them, the case for which is still far from being proved.

Related post:
Nether-World - Another Step Closer To Internment

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Monday, November 27, 2006 

Sleepwalking into the arms of busybodies.

I try not to stray into hyperbole, or scaremonger for no good reason. That's their job. As you might expect, there is now a huge but coming. But, you have to wonder if in years to come they'll look back and decide if 2006 was the tipping point when Britain became a true surveillance state. Let's face it, when that friend of authoritarians everywhere, David Blunkett, starts speaking out, something has to be wrong.

POLICE and councils are considering monitoring conversations in the street using high-powered microphones attached to CCTV cameras, write Steven Swinford and Nicola Smith.

The microphones can detect conversations 100 yards away and record aggressive exchanges before they become violent.

The devices are used at 300 sites in Holland and police, councils and transport officials in London have shown an interest in installing them before the 2012 Olympics.

Right. In the best possible circumstances then, police might be able to get to the scene of a fight slightly quicker. They're unlikely to be able to break it up before it starts. While the first thought for why they're thinking of installing them prior to 2012 must be in case a jihadist decides to discuss his martyrdom with his fellow bombers before they proceed to explode with extreme prejudice, it also occurs that they might be interested in them for other reasons. Like making sure that those unsightly inhabitants of any big city, beggars, the homeless and prostitutes, are tucked away out of sight and out of mind, away from the shining regenerated smiling happy new East End of London. Not that properly regulated women of the night will necessarily be prohibited;
Athens did exactly that prior to their games. The article continues:

Derek van der Vorst, director of Sound Intelligence, the company that created the technology, said: “It is technically capable of being live 24 hours a day and recording 24 hours a day. It really depends on the privacy laws in a particular country.”

The possibilities are endless for snoopers. It also has depressing echoes of 1984, when O'Brien plays back tapes of Winston and Julia making love out in the countryside, where they thought they were safe.
Thank God then for possibly the least likely knight in shining armour in the country sticking his oar in:

But the former home secretary David Blunkett called publicly on the government to block the scheme.

He told BBC Radio Five Live's Weekend News programme that the suggestion was "simply unacceptable", and smacked of the "surveillance state".

"As you walk down the street you expect to be able to have a private conversation," he said.

"If you can't guarantee that - and here is someone speaking who has been pretty tough in terms of what should be available to protect society - I believe we have slipped over the edge."

Not that the government will take the word of one authoritarian over another - if John Reid wants it, no doubt we'll get it.

Then there's the police themselves to worry about. With the politics of terrorism increasingly becoming a party political issue, thanks partly to the government and partly to the screams of the tabloids, demands that once would have been dismissed out of hand suddenly become attractive to a home secretary determined to make the opposition look soft due to their stance.
We've seen Ian Blair time and again demand 90 day detention without trial, even when the Attorney General himself has said that he's seen no evidence to back up such a lengthy time period, and that's a year after the government first attempted to ram it through parliament.

According to the Grauniad, the ever reactionary plod have even more radical and draconian plans than yet seen. Tarique Ghaffur, assistant Met commissioner,
who has already recommended that flag burning and the wearing of masks be banned, has drawn up his own wish list for Lord Goldsmith to cast his eye over.

Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands.

Great. And what's the justification for such a chilling imposition on freedom of expression?

Mr Ghaffur has previously advocated banning flag burning. But this document would take the police a lot further. Mr Ghaffur says there is a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on extremist protesters, which has led to rising anger across the country. "The result has been to create an imbalance in public perception that is manifesting itself in passionate responses from elements of the community not traditionally given to publicly protesting. What we are seeing in effect is a rise in the politicisation of middle England and the emergence of a significant challenge for capital city policing."

The entire basis for potentially criminalising what are harmless and typical chants on protests is the chestnut the police have come to adore, the extremists. There have been a maximum of 3 protests which have caused widespread publicity this year by well-known extremists: the first, in February, in the aftermath of the controversy of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, involving less than 500 people, where protesters clearly incited murder, with the result of one man being convicted; the second, when
Anjem Choudary and other usual suspects, numbering less than 100, protested outside a Catholic church shortly after the Pope's quoting of a Byzantine emperor, with Choudary suggesting that the pontiff could be subject to capital punishment, although he did not say he should be executed; and the third, when a similar number of protesters made their feelings known outside the Old Bailey during the trial of Mizanur Rahman.

The protests have caused offense, the first one rightly so, and the second one predictably. The hole in Mr Ghaffur's argument is that one of those on the February protest has been successfully prosecuted under current laws; others are likely to follow. As Not Saussure also argues, this isn't about "Middle England" being politicised, it's about the Sun screaming about the "faces of evil" who dare to use their right to protest. The media's focusing and reliance on getting the views of extremists, who represent absolutely no one within the wider Muslim community, has to share part of the blame for the rising levels of Islamophobia.

The police want powers to tackle a "grey area" in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence.

God, causing offence hasn't been criminalised yet? New Labour have been slacking off. Criminalising causing offence in any way whatsoever is a recipe for absolute disaster. How can you justify criminalising extremist groups' banners and chants, without at the same time cracking down on the BNP? How can you legislate without at the same time potentially limiting the right of comedians to free speech? Many people find the stand-up routines of Roy "Chubby" Brown and Bernard Manning offensive. Creating an offence of causing offence would be a meddlesome busybodies dream. It could also be used both ways; the Sun might rejoice that the tiny bunch of extremists are stopped from covering their faces and saying that the Pope could theoretically be executed, but somehow I get the feeling it might feel the opposite if "politically correct killjoys" started targeting page 3 for offending women.

The document continues: "Is the sand shifting in our collective viewpoint around what constitutes 'causing offence'? Equally, we need to have a clearer determination of current community perceptions around what 'public offence' actually means. We also need to think more laterally around how we police public demonstrations where 'offence' could be caused, while still respecting the British position around freedom of speech."

The document, entitled "The widening agenda of public demonstrations and radicalisation", says Islamic extremists have learned how to cause offence without breaking the law. It also reveals that the government has yet to implement the bill outlawing religious hatred which received royal assent in February. It says that the law may prove useless against extremists: "Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behaviour or banners towards particular religions, but
would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred."

The police then want to have their cake and eat it. They recognise that virtually all demonstrations could be considered insulting and abusive, but Ghaffur seemingly wants to bring in a new law anyway. Their real reasoning might actually be that they want to remove all nuances; after all, it's really difficult to tell the difference between inciting murder and calling someone a murderer. Rule of thumb for all plods: calling Blair, for example, a murderer, is perfectly ok. Calling for Blair to be murdered, especially if he is to be beheaded, or killed in a suicide bombing, is not ok.

To give Ghaffur his due, his heart and motives may be in the right place. His concern could be that letting the current situation continue, with extremists causing outrage among those who don't much respect the right to protest in the first place, could well lead to more mosques and hijab-wearing women being attacked as a result by knuckledragging idiots.

The consequences of such a ban though would be multiple.
As Not Saussure again points out, we've already had a young woman wearing a "Bollocks to Blair" t-shirt arrested, as was another young man for suggesting that a police horse was gay. Protests normally involve robust denunciations of politicians, suggesting that they're the real terrorists, for example. Companies are oft accused of having blood on their hands. Both could be under threat for causing offence. If such a law was put in place, you may as well ban all protests throughout the country without prior permission, as is the current situation within a mile of parliament. This might make Ghaffur happy; those planning to attend could in advance tell the police what they intend to chant or show on placards, which the police could then check before giving the ok. Nanny knows best.

As ever, the best argument against such a potential ban is that every additional power given to the police is inevitably abused. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act has become notorious after Walter Wolfgang was refused re-entry to the Labour party conference. Stalking laws have been used against repeat protesters. If the police want to do something, they'll find a law they can justify it under.

OK, you might be saying, but parliament wouldn't let such potentially draconian laws be passed. The answer to that is that we sadly and simply can't rely on that being the case. The recent vote on the setting up of an inquiry into the Iraq war was a case in point:
the government got off the hook through sheer cowardice, by attacking the nationalists who got the debate in the first place. Voting with them would be betrayal, they said, along with potentially undermining the troops, a disgustingly mendacious argument when inquiries have on numerous occasions in the past been set-up during times of war.
Even with Labour MPs being the most rebellious ever, some will always abstain rather than face the wrath of the whips or their colleagues for helping defeat the government.

Such potential legislation then needs to be vigorously opposed before it even gets near the House of Commons. Write to your MP, write to your local council, write to your local newspaper, write to members of the House of Lords. Better yet, join Liberty. It's better to be unnecessarily concerned and do something about it than wait until it's too late.

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