UK counter-terror laws are chipping away fundamental rights, says Amnesty

The UK has enacted some of the most draconian counter-terrorism measures, warned Amnesty International in a newly published report on national security laws across the EU.

Amnesty’s report, which investigated the anti-terrorism policies of 14 different European countries, found that the UK is at the extreme end of the spectrum in many areas of concern, with measures on mass surveillance, the use of unreliable ‘diplomatic assurances’ in order to deport people where there is a risk of torture, stripping people of their nationality, controlling their movements and detaining them without charge or sufficient legal process.

The UK’s newly enacted Investigatory Powers Act – or ‘Snoopers Charter‘ – which allows for the indiscriminate interception of data including emails and phone records was bluntly criticised by the human rights organisation and so was the Home Secretary’s power to deprive British citizens of their sole nationality or exclude them from the UK if considered to be a threat to national security.

The UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, tweeted  on Tuesday that Amnesty had made a ‘rather selective use’ of his reports on counter-terrorism measures. In his last report, Anderson concluded that the Terrorism Acts were a ‘broadly proportionate reaction to the current threat’ and that ‘the hostile narrative of power-hungry security services, police insensitivity to community concerns and laws constantly being ratcheted up to new levels of oppression is, quite simply, false’.

Nevertheless, Amnesty’s report denounced the increasing number of executive powers that the UK Government is creating to counteract terrorism and it criticised the lack of an independent oversight mechanism over the use of the investigatory powers under the new law.

A European problem
The UK was not the only country to be condemned in the report. Amnesty warned that sweeping new counter-terrorism laws across the EU are driving Europe into a deep and dangerous state of permanent ‘securitisation’ and counter-terrorism measures have generally eroded the rule of law, enhanced executive powers, peeled away judicial controls, restricted freedom of expression and exposed everyone to unchecked government surveillance.

Fundamental freedoms and basic human rights protections were being trumped by Governments around Europe in the name of national security and ‘fear, alienation and prejudice are steadily chipping away at the cornerstones of the EU: fairness, equality and non-discrimination’.

John Dalhuisen, Europe director for Amnesty International, explained that while it is necessary to combat terrorism and protect civilians from terrorist attacks, this cannot be done at the expenses of fundamental rights and freedoms. ‘The need to protect people from such wanton violence is clear, but this is not something that can be achieved by any means,’ he said. ‘Crucially, it neither should nor can be achieved by riding roughshod over the very rights that governments are supposed to uphold.’

Ultimately… the threat to the life of a nation does not come from the isolated acts of a violent criminal fringe, however much they may wish to destroy these institutions and undermine these principles – but from governments and societies that are prepared to abandon their own values in confronting them.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty

Author: Caterina Franchi

Caterina is a Solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line.

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