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Lawyer reviewing terror laws and special powers: Definition of 'terrorism' is too broad

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The definition of terrorism in current UK law is too broad and should be narrowed to avoid "catching" journalists, bloggers and hate criminals, a top lawyer said today.

David Anderson QC, who is Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, argued during an interview on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme this morning that the word "influence" should be removed to prevent the wrong type of offences being caught up in terror law.

He said that instead the legislation should require that terrorists must be shown to "intimidate or coerce or to compel".

An annual report (PDF) was laid before Parliament today in which Anderson urged MPs to review the definition of terrorism "to avoid the potential for abuse," according to the Guardian.

Anderson has separately been tasked with leading an independent review of the capabilities and powers required by police and spooks and the regulatory framework within which that law should be exercised in light of the fast-tracked Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Drip).

He said:

Foolish or dangerous journalism is one thing, terrorism is another. The problem there is the way the bar is set.

It's enough that you're trying to influence the government for political reasons. In most other countries you need to have to intimidate or coerce the government before you can be a terrorist.

One such high-profile case involved David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald. It's understood that Greenwald is in possession of large amounts of secret files leaked by former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden.

Miranda, who was carrying classified information on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, was detained at Heathrow airport and interrogated for almost nine hours last August under anti-terrorism legislation while in transit from Germany to Brazil, where he lives with Greenwald.

The detention and interrogation by British police of Miranda was ruled at the time to be legal by a British judge.

But Anderson said this morning that such action was troubling and he argued that it was "more difficult to defend ... the use of anti-terrorism laws for that purpose."

He added: "One might be thinking of official secrets, of espionage, of theft, but it's a bit of a stretch to see somebody like that as a potential terrorist."

MPs will be asked to "revisit" Blighty's current anti-terrorism law to address the broad definition problem. Anderson said that the legislation "fails to distinguish, in all respects, between hate crime and terrorism."

Westminster should narrow the definition, he argued, to help gain public support "for special powers that are unfortunately likely to be needed for the foreseeable future." ®

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