Calls for Investigatory Powers Bill to be accelerated in wake of Paris attacks

Some commentators are calling for the acceleration of the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill in the wake of Friday's attack in the French capital.

ISIS' attacks have led European leaders to re-consider their counter-terror efforts
ISIS' attacks have led European leaders to re-consider their counter-terror efforts

The smoke has not yet cleared from Friday's attacks in Paris, which left nearly 150 dead and countless more injured, and already Europe is thinking about how to respond to the all too clear danger of Islamic Terrorism, both home-grown and foreign.

But what does this mean for the nascent set of controversial security and surveillance laws, already waiting for passage in Europe's national assemblies and hotly debated outside of them?

France immediately declared a state of emergency in the wake of the attacks, a rarely used function of the French executive which allows police to search houses without warrant, shut down large congregations of people (for example, bars, theatres or protests) and even an ambiguously defined provision to “control” the press.  

There is little news on a new legislative agenda in France following the attacks but those on the right of the spectrum have called for not only reprisals against IS but France's Muslim population as a whole.

Belgium, where several of the Paris attackers were caught, has been similarly cagey about its legislative response to the attacks but has raised security around football matches and Belgian prime minister Charles Michel has noted, "We will have to reinforce our effort against terrorism.”

Spain, which has seen it's share of terror attacks, Islamist or otherwise, is considering tightening security measures but has yet to announce anything concrete.

The German government has said that it “remains the focus of international terrorism,”  and is talking about stricter controls on cross-border travel.

The UK already had several controversial surveillance bills waiting in the wings which are opposed by those who think that they present a threat to civil liberties and freedom of the press. 

Will the recent attacks pave the way to more easily pass these through Parliament?

David Cameron, speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning promised 1900 more staff for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to accelerate the fight against international terrorism and suggest a willingness to accelerate the passage of the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), granting security agencies new powers to collect private communications in bulk.

Calum Jeffray, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British defence and security think-tank which advised the government on the draft IPB spoke to SCMagazineUK.com on how these recent developments might affect the the bill as well as other surveillance laws in the UK.

“It's extremely unlikely that any changes will be made to the draft Investigatory Powers Bill in light of the attacks in Paris. After the recommendations made by the ISC, RUSI and David Anderson QC, the government has spent months putting the proposed legislation together and reaching agreement on its content and the proposed judicial safeguards – there is no indication of a knee-jerk reaction from government to now change aspects of the draft bill.”

Jeffray added that government officials would not leap to fast-track the bill as “as it would drastically reduce public confidence in the bill. It's probably safe to say, however, that officials will point to attacks such as the ones in Paris as justification for the necessity of the legislation.”

This prediction is supported by the Telegraph's Dan Hodge's who wrote on Sunday, "If we truly believe in standing in solidarity with Paris, we must let it [the IPB] pass. We must demand it passes.” 

On the other hand, Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat peer and former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, doesn't want to wait any longer than necessary. He told the Express and Star, “I and other politicians want this Bill to be expedited, so that rather than becoming law by the end of 2016, which is the plan, it should become law as soon as possible".

Are there legislative steps the UK can take to better combat extremism? SC spoke to Jonathan Russell, head of policy at Quilliam, the anti-extremism think tank founded by former Islamist Maajid Nawaz.

Russell said that because extremists use asymmetric tactics to recruit and radicalise, security services also need asymmetric tools to respond. While he doesn't “dispute that the security services probably need more powers”, he is wary of a “knee-jerk reaction” in Parliament: “How we introduce new policies is as important as the policies themselves. I wouldn't like to see the Investigatory Powers Bill pushed through.” 

Russell added, “We know from the last decade that hastily written legislation has caused as many problems as it has solved.”

All this said, Quilliam works from a social policy approach, attempting to combat the radical messaging that young people are so often seduced by. The internet is powerful tool for radical Islamists and gives them a broad base to target vulnerable young minds, Quilliam's challenge to that problem comes from confronting “the ideas themselves not just a wide audience but crucially, the(ir) target audience.”

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