15 October 2008
Saying terrorists ‘wish to kill British people anywhere in the world’ the Home Secretary called for greater powers to track down and prosecute terrorists.
In her speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Home Secretary Jacqui Smith described the current terror threat as ‘the new terrorism’.
It sought, she said, to recruit people in this country and to subvert our institutions.
‘It has a detailed public narrative that claims to justify the killing of civilians. But it has more than this – it also has the electronic means to disseminate that narrative very quickly and very widely.’
New terrorism has access to levels of technology and training that earlier terrorists only dreamed of.
‘Old groups did not seek weapons of mass destruction,’ she said.
A very real threat
Because law enforcement and intelligence agencies have managed to disrupt terror plots and prevent attacks, it is sometimes hard to explain the scale and urgency of the threat we face, she explained. But no-one should take the absence of attack to mean the absence of threat.
Since the beginning of last year, 81 people have been convicted of terrorism-related activity in 33 court cases. Nearly half of them (40 of the 81) pleaded guilty.
‘The threat we face is severe,’ she said. ‘And it is different in character from what has gone before.’
More communications powers needed
The government’s ability to intercept communications and obtain communications data is vital to fighting terrorism and combating serious crime, she said. Information about calls, such as the location and identity of the caller – not the content of the calls themselves – is used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and in almost all Security Service operations since 2004.
But the communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we intercept communications and collect communications data needs to change too.
‘The changes we need to make may require legislation. The safeguards we will want to put in place certainly will. And we may need legislation to test what a solution will look like,’ she said.
The changes would not create an enormous database which will contain the content of your emails, the texts that you send or the chats you have on the phone or online. Nor would it give local authorities the power to trawl through such a database in the interest of investigating minor crimes or disputes.
‘Local authorities do not have the power to listen to your calls now and they never will in future,’ she emphasised.
‘We also need to agree what safeguards will be needed, in addition to the many we have in place already, to provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties,’ she said.
‘In this, as in the other work we do, my aim is to achieve a consensus and I hope that others will approach the serious issues posed for our national security capabilities in the same spirit.’
Read the speech