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Lords restrict terror website censorship plans

Amendment squeezes through by one vote

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The House of Lords has restricted Government plans to allow the police to order the take down of suspected terrorism-related web content by requiring that the authorities obtain the permission of a judge first.

The draft Terrorism Bill was published in October, in the wake of the London bombings, and was instantly controversial – due to provisions dealing with the detention of terrorists, the criminalisation of those planning or preparing a terrorist act, and the prohibition of the encouragement or glorification of terrorism.

Website owners and ISPs are also affected by the proposals, which deems them to endorse prohibited material if, without reasonable excuse, they do not take down or modify the material once notified by a constable.

But critics are concerned that this imposes too great a restriction on free speech – and gives too much power to the police. The Lords have therefore introduced an element of judicial oversight.

"I entirely accept the principle that where there is something on the internet which is transmitting material from a website which is indeed truly terrorist related – I entirely accept that it should be removed,” Liberal Democrat spokesman Lord Goodhart told the Lords, according to the Times Online.

"It is simply a question that the police should not have authority which would enable them to go round removing any material, which they had the slightest suspicion could possibly be of some interest to somebody for terrorist purposes," he added.

The peers also tightened the definition of "unlawfully terrorism-related" material to cover material "likely" to be understood as encouraging terrorism, rather than the previously broad reference to material that could encourage terrorism.

The amendment, which was passed by the House of Lords by 148 votes to 147, was the second time in 24 hours that Government had lost a motion by only one vote. On this occasion the critical vote could have been provided by Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal, who is responsible for pushing the legislation through the Lords.

She had left the chamber because of a "family emergency", according to reports.

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