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U K News
U.K. Debuts Tougher Counterterror Laws
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 26 Nov 2014 11:32:35 EST
An armed police officer stands guard in Downing Street, London, on Wednesday,   as the government unveiled a tough new antiterror law.
An armed police officer stands guard in Downing Street, London, on Wednesday, as the government unveiled a tough new antiterror law. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

LONDON—The U.K. government presented controversial counterterrorism draft legislation on Wednesday which includes a plan to block British terror suspects from returning to the U.K. from abroad unless the individuals submit to certain conditions.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is part of increased efforts to combat the threat of attacks by Islamist extremists, in particular Islamic State, the militant group against which the U.S., U.K. and regional nations have carried out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Western authorities have expressed increasing concern about the risk of attacks on their own soil linked to the group.

The draft legislation, which the government hopes to get on to the statute books before the U.K. general election in May, includes plans to block people from leaving the country who are suspected of planning to engage in terror-related activities, and greater powers over suspects’ movements in the U.K. and online surveillance.

One of the most controversial measures involves plans to introduce a “temporary exclusion order” to block Britons who are deemed to be a terror risk from coming back to the U.K. for two years unless they apply for and receive a permit issued by the home secretary, the U.K.’s interior minister.

During the period that the exclusion order is in force, any British passport held by the individual is invalid, the draft legislation said. It would be up to the home secretary to decide the terms of the permit to return, although a permit would be issued if the individual is to be deported back to Britain.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in September that the government planned to block Britons from returning home who had pledged allegiance to another state, but didn’t provide any details. Legal experts and civil rights campaigners at the time raised concerns that blocking Britons from returning home from abroad could effectively render an individual stateless which could contravene international law.

“It’s dangerous to rush through this grab bag of measures without proper scrutiny or challenge,” Rachel Logan, Amnesty International’s U.K. legal adviser, said in a statement. “While the government needs to ensure that anyone suspected of criminal activity is investigated, measures like invalidating passports and excluding British nationals from their home country push the boundaries of international law.”

In a short statement accompanying the draft legislation, Home Secretary Theresa May said the bill was, in her view, compatible with human rights conventions.

Another controversial proposal included in the draft legislation Wednesday is a requirement that Internet service providers retain records to help identify people using a particular phone or computer. The companies would be required to keep track of Internet protocol addresses, which identify Internet-connected computers by location.

Some technology companies have complained that the measure would pile additional burdens on companies without providing much benefit. IP addresses can be masked by routing signals around the world, while several computers could share an IP address as could up to 2,000 mobile phones, industry officials say.

The British government estimates that some 500 British nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq in recent years, fueling concerns about the security risk these individuals may pose should they return to the U.K. radicalized, battle-hardened and intent on carrying out violent acts.

U.K. authorities in August raised their assessment of the threat from international terrorism to “severe” from “substantial”, the second-highest level on its five-point scale, as a result of the rise of the Islamist militancy in Syria and Iraq. The move reflects the view that an attack is highly likely.

Ms. May said on Monday that Britain is engaged in a struggle that will last many years and faces a greater terror threat than ever before.

Write to Nicholas Winning at nick.winning@wsj.com



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