New counter-terrorism powers criticised by human rights committee

New counter-terrorism powers proposed by the UK government have been criticised by a Westminster committee as being too vaguely defined and lacking safeguards to protect human rights.

In its report, the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights said that it doubts whether the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, as drafted, is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

It warned that some of the provisions aimed at closing “loopholes in the law” would “extend the reach of the criminal law into private spaces, and may criminalise curious minds and expressions of belief which do not carry any consequent harm or intent to cause harm”.

Clause 1 of the bill criminalises “expressions of support” for proscribed organisations where the person expressing support is reckless as to whether the person to whom the expression is directed will be encouraged to support the proscribed organisation.

The committee said the clause could “have a chilling effect, for instance, on academic debate during which participants speak in favour of the de-proscription of proscribed organisations”.

Clause 3 criminalises viewing material online of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, where material is viewed three or more times and the person knows or has reason to believe that the material is or is likely to be terrorist material.

The committee said it was “not clear” what would constitute “legitimate activity” for the purpose of the “reasonable excuse” defence.

It has also set out “serious concerns” about other provisions extending the period for which biometric data can be retained and providing for a wide basis on which people can be stopped and searched at ports.

Commenting on the report, committee chair Harriet Harman said: “The government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights.

“The committee believes that this bill goes too far and will be tabling amendments in both the Commons and the Lords.”