The British government is set to expand terrorism offenses to include the act of viewing content online. Jim Killock of Open Rights Group says the move amounts to criminalizing thought
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The British government is set to expand terrorism offenses to include the act of viewing content online. Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently unveiled the move. AMBER RUDD: We will change the law so that people who repeatedly view terrorist content online could face up to 15 years in prison. This will close an important gap in legislation. At present, the existing offense applies only if you’ve downloaded or stored such material. Not if you’re repeatedly viewing it or streaming it online. We will also change the law in another important way. If someone publishes information about our police or armed forces for the purpose of preparing an act of terrorism, then they could face up to 15 years in prison. AARON MATÉ: That was British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Now, Downing Street says this legislation sends a clear message to terrorists, but critics say it’s actually criminalizing thought. Jim Killock is Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Britain’s only grassroots digital rights organization. Welcome Jim. For those of us who are not in Britain and might be hearing about this measure for the first time, can you explain for us what this is? JIM KILLOCK: Well, this is at the moment just a proposal. We don’t know whether Amber Rudd will follow through, but it sounds like she’s serious. She wants people to be sentenced to jail if they have been viewing extremist or terrorist related material online. Of course that’s going to affect journalists, it could affect academics, all of those already very cautious about what they research around extremism. But it’s also going to make it very, very dangerous and hard I think for people who are maybe on the edges of these networks. Maybe they’ve been reading this material. Maybe they want to get out. Maybe they think these people are dangerous and they actually don’t want to support them and want to maybe tell the authorities about that. What are they going to do at that stage? They’d be admitting to a criminal offense, something that could land them in jail for 10 or 15 years just because they know about these people and have been reading about them online. That’s going to deter them from actually going forward and seeking help or from reporting them. So I think even from Theresa May’s point of view and Amber Rudd’s point of view this is dangerous. It’s not going to help de-radicalization, it’s not going to help stop extremists and terrorist. AARON MATÉ: How do they define what constitutes criminal content? JIM KILLOCK: Who knows? I think they’re having difficulties even now deciding what is and isn’t extremist, what is criminal, and of course it’s very easy to say look, something that’s supporting those sorts of views is criminal and then suddenly lots of things which actually are perfectly legitimate become criminalized…do extremists include environmental groups? Today we had somebody who had been attending a protest against the G20 having their, reports of how they had have their laptops seized, their material taken off their electronic equipment. They were forced to hand over passwords merely because they had been in demonstrations in Berlin. Apparently that might have been to do with the fact that there were anarchists on that demonstration, a black blog. You’re being on a demonstration that has anarchists in it shouldn’t make you a terrorist suspect. That’s what happened to a woman in the UK only a few months ago. AARON MATÉ: Your organization has been speaking out about this. What’s been the wider reaction in Britain so far? JIM KILLOCK: It’s extremely muted actually. There was a couple of reports on this, so not a lot of reports. I think that’s because the Tory party, the conservative party’s in disarray to be honest. They are struggling with the idea of leaving the European Union. They’re split on how to do it. Everyone’s worried about what’s happening and that’s forming a lot of distraction. Nobody really knows whether this government’s capable of legislating on anything, so I think all of that tends to distract. But I think we should be looking at this very, very seriously. We should be very concerned that our government having put everybody under surveillance and legitimized all the things that we heard from Edward Snowden now wants to do the same for free speech. What it’s done for privacy it wants to do for free speech, which is to say yeah, of course you can have free speech so long as you’re saying things that we’re not worried about. AARON MATÉ: The conservatives barely held onto power in the recent election. Do you think that this measure has some sort of political motivation in terms of trying to use the old tactic of fear mongering and using the threat of terrorism to get people on side? JIM KILLOCK: Well, I think they would be doing that whatever had happened in the election. I think they’re constantly doing that. I think right at the moment on both sides of the Atlantic in many European countries, not just Britain, there is a tendency towards authoritarianism to taking extreme stances to do actually to put in place the kinds of policies that extreme right wing governments would do if they were the ones in charge. Instead we have democratic parties doing the sorts of things that we would only expect the most extreme right wing governments to be doing. That’s I think because they’re trying to capture the same public mood that people are worried, people want things to blame, they’re looking for scapegoats and of course terrorism extremists are a great scapegoat. Nobody’s going to sympathize with them so why not do that? However, I think it’s a very dangerous tactic and I think maybe our governments are not realizing that by legitimizing that sort of extreme authoritarian behavior that actually they are opening the door for even more extreme governments in the future and make it easier for the extremists to sound normal and sane. AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Jim Killock is the Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Britain’s only grassroots digital rights organization. Jim, thank you. JIM KILLOCK: Thank you. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.