New UK counter-terror laws come into force today – watch those clicks, people. You see, terrorist propag... NOOO! Alexa ignore us!

Officer, um, we were just explaining how viewing terrorist content online's an offence

New laws came into force today that make it an offence in the UK to view terrorist material online just once.

woman clicks the wrong thing on laptop, covers mouth from shock

One click and you're out: UK makes it an offence to view terrorist propaganda even once

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The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which was granted Royal Assent in February, bestows on law enforcement new powers to tackle terrorism.

The government introduced the measures as part of its efforts to crack down on terrorist activities in the aftermath of attacks in London and Manchester in 2017.

However, the Act has controversially expanded rules on obtaining information "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" to cover online content.

A new clause added into the 2019 Act makes it an offence to "view (or otherwise access) any terrorist material online", which also covers, for instance, streaming content.

The Act also increased the maximum penalty for some types of preparatory terrorism offences, including the collection of terrorist information, to 15 years' imprisonment.

An earlier version of the legislation suggested making it an offence for someone to view material three or more times, but this was dropped from the final Act.

There are exemptions for academics and journalists, but human rights groups have warned the law could catch too many other people in its net, such as those who might view material to gain a better understanding or who have just exercised poor judgment.

It was also criticised by the UN's special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci, who said: "The difference between forming the intention to do something and then actually carrying out the act is still fundamental to criminal law."

A government impact assessment for the Act said the law still provides for the existing "reasonable excuse defence", which includes circumstances where a person "did not know, and had no reason to believe" the material contained terrorist propaganda. ®

* Before you head to the comments, we acknowledge that in our headline scenario, of course, we'd be talking to an "Alexa-enabled device with a screen". But, y'know - that's kind of a mouthful.

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