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Home > Politics

Bang go our freedoms

After this week’s terror arrests, what next for Britain’s poor old civil liberties?

3 April 2004

With three teen bombers – and five adult ones - locked away at Paddington Green, Londoners can set their minds at rest; safe in the knowledge that the threat of a terror attack on the city is very real. And growing. Much like the toxic cloud of suspicion currently mushrooming over British Asians.

At this happy time, it's easy to overlook the very real danger of having wholly polarised Muslim and "White" communities in the capital. For one thing, if the police want to infiltrate terror cells, they're going to need many more Muslim contacts and recruits. These relationships are currently being nurtured by the ongoing stop and search of random Arab businessmen for doing U-turns in their BMWs.

Then there are the "some of my best friends are Muslim" comments. Police chief Peter Clarke means well when he says “The overwhelming majority of the Muslim community are law-abiding and reject all forms of violence”, but that only makes you wonder how many hundreds of bloodthirsty criminal Muslims are actually out on the streets of Luton with TNT stuffed up their jumpers. It’s like saying “The overwhelming majority of cab drivers aren’t racist.” It’s hardly a reassurance.

Worse is the newspaper coverage. The Express recklessly went ahead and printed the names of “alleged suspects” and the streets where they live, their hobbies and favourite mosques. This may or may not prejudice a trial, but you wouldn't want to be an Arab on any of those streets tonight.

The temptation must be resisted to revive proposed Home Office legislation by pretending that it’s good for countering terrorism.

David Blunkett has long been keen on an overhaul of anti-terror laws. As it stands, British suspects are entitled to things like trials and charges. This week's arrests are the perfect opportunity to revive the idea that the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act be extended to cover UK citizens, denying all suspects any of these rights.

The chances of Blunkett getting back on this hobby horse are so enormous that no sane bookie would take a single bet. Instead, then, the TFT offers the following odds on Crawley reanimating The Legislation That Refuses To Die.
Mind how you go...

The Odds...

3-2 favourite: The government already retains records of all Internet traffic and mobile usage. Blunkett's been pushing to extend this privilege to all citizens, not just suspects. Coming soon: a bug in every phone and three spies reading every email.

2-1 on: ID cards. Blunkett's fixated on "entitlement" cards as a way of solving every problem in the UK. Ihre Papiere, bitte!

3-1: Painting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The EU wants to copy America's CAPPS system whereby airline passengers are colour-coded according to risk (Muslims get Yellow for "doubtful").

10-1: Spending billions on a mass fingerprinting programme ready for "biometric passports"? It sounds awfully efficient. It won’t be.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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