Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/27/home_secretary_increases_civil_liberties_but_big_brother_not_satisfied/

Theresa May announces new counter-terrorism package

Stop-and-search, RIPA sort of limited

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Government, 27th January 2011 11:06 GMT

Home Secretary, Theresa May, yesterday announced radical government action to end the creeping threat to civil liberties in the UK brought about by counter-terrorism legislation and increased powers for the security forces – by replacing her existing powers with even better counter-terror legislation and new powers for the security services.

That is the conclusion drawn by Big Brother Watch director, Alex Deane, who also expressed the view that the Lib Dems have had the wool pulled over their eyes once more.

At first sight, the results of the review, announced to the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, were a libertarian dream: detention without trial chopped in half; an end to the hated s44 stop-and-search power under the Terrorism Act 2000; and strict limits to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Now read the small print:

In her first major outing since being elevated to Shadow Home Secretary, Labour MP Yvette Cooper gave these proposals a predictably dusty response. True: she did lend her support to proposals to widen the scope of deportation, and she was not too unhappy with bringing RIPA powers under some sort of legal control. Otherwise, though, she was sceptical, describing the Home Secretary’s policies as "a complete shambles" as well as "irresponsible".

She would say that – but she may have had a point, as she questioned whether it was wise to leave the possible extension of detention without trial to the vagaries of emergency legislation being rushed in at a time of national crisis.

The Lib Dems were just as predictably upbeat. Their European justice & human rights spokeswoman and London MEP Sarah Ludford said: "With strong Liberal Democrat input, this review overturns Labour's trampling on crucial freedoms.

"The end to harassment and snooping on protesters, photographers and ordinary people under guise of counter-terrorism is particularly welcome."

In the end it was left to Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch to land some rather more telling blows on this package. He said: "This is a classic case of 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss'."

In respect of control orders, he suggested there was little real change – and what there was was essentially for the worse, with orders only needing to be renewed every two years, as opposed to every year, as now.

Additional powers – such as curfews and movement restrictions – are still there, if needed. And the bottom line is that however many assurances are given by the government, this remains a serious curtailment of individual human rights without due legal process: in essence the very breach of civil liberties that his organisation found objectionable in the first place.

He ends by suggesting that yet again, the Lib Dems have fallen for what is little more than an illusion by their senior partners in government. He writes: "So: nobody will be fooled by this childish slight of hand – except perhaps the Lib Dems, because none are so blind as those who will not see – they can now pretend that they haven’t broken their manifesto commitment." ®