Air cargo bomb threat puts terrorism back on rights agenda

4 November 2010 by

The air freight bomb plot that came to light over the weekend was a stark reminder that, while new pressures on human rights may come as a result of the economic crisis and budget cuts, the tension between national security and civil liberties as a result of terrorist threats is still a live issue.

However, whereas the New Labour government came under intense criticism for its anti-terrorism policies, the Coalition’s response to last weekend’s events has (so far) been comparatively restrained. The measures announced yesterday were mainly focused on cargo originating from Yemen and other potentially dangerous parts of the world. The government has also said that it will conduct a review of air freight policies and procedures, and consult with the air freight industry on improving security.

While there have been some calls for a much tougher response, even including consideration of military intervention in Yemen, the Coalition’s cautious approach has been applauded by others.

Moreover, the bomb plot came only a day after the head of the Secret Intelligence Service made his first public speech, reminding the public of the importance of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ’s work. As the Guardian pointed out:

The air freight bomb discovery might almost have been designed to underline what the MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers, said last week about the ongoing nature of the terrorist threat, especially to air travel, and the immense importance of intelligence in combating it.

Sir John’s speech is worth reading and attracted a lot of attention in the press. What was interesting about it from a human rights perspective was that he addressed the issue of the tension between ensuring national security and protecting civil liberties head-on, asking “How can the public have confidence that work done by us in secret is lawful, ethical and in their interests?”. He explained the legal framework in which SIS operates, and the various levels of oversight and accountability that are in place, emphasising that:

These processes of control and accountability are as robust as you will find anywhere. SIS fully supports them. We want to enjoy public confidence.

However, Sir John made the point that the intelligence services’ work must by its very nature be conducted in secret and he defended this vigorously, saying “Secrecy is not a dirty word. Secrecy is not there as a cover up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure“. In particular he made a not-so-subtle criticism of some recent judicial decisions:

We work with over 200 partner services around the world, with hugely constructive results. And our intelligence partnership with the United States is an especially powerful contributor to UK security. No intelligence service risks compromising its sources. So we have a rule called the control principle – the service who first obtains the intelligence has the right to control how it is used, who else it can be shared with, and what action can be taken on it. It’s rule number one of intelligence sharing. We insist on it with our partners, and they insist on it with us. Because whenever intelligence is revealed, others try to hunt down the source. Agents can get identified, arrested, tortured and killed by the very organisations who are working against us. So if the control principle is not respected, the intelligence dries up. That’s why we have been so concerned about the possible release of intelligence material in recent court cases.

He also addressed the question of torture in very clear and forthright terms:

Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it. If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by UK and international law to avoid that action. And we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead.

But he did note that important information would be used from intelligence services in countries which adhere somewhat less to international human rights standards:

We can’t do our job if we work only with friendly democracies. Dangerous threats usually come from dangerous people in dangerous places. We have to deal with the world as it is. Suppose we receive credible intelligence that might save lives, here or abroad. We have a professional and moral duty to act on it. We will normally want to share it with those who can save those lives.

All in all, some interesting insights from someone at the front-line of counter-terrorism who has to deal constantly with very real and very difficult questions of how to uphold human rights standards while at the same time effectively defending British citizens. And insights that are quite prescient, given recent events.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts

2 comments


  1. Alex says:

    More countries will have their cargo screened:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLAL00455120101104

    Do you happen to know under what power the government is able to do this? A temporary restriction on cargo from Yemen just after an attempted attack while Parliament discusses emergency legislation seems fair, but for the executive to just impose proper restrictions (rather than temporary ones), including against countries not involved in the attack? That power seems excessive.

    So what power is being used here? Henry VIII clauses or prerogative powers or similar?

    It seems a lot like the government’s temporary cap on non-EU immigration. That the executive, without recourse to Parliament, can do these things is illiberal.

  2. These air cargo bombs are in my view a sign that we need to worry much less. Al-Qaeda seems to have serious trouble finding qualified suicide bombers: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/diy-terror/

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: