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Now Is the Time for a Steady, Considered Approach to Counter-Terrorism, Not Knee Jerk Reactions

12/01/2015 22:21 GMT | Updated 14/03/2015 09:59 GMT

There are few people who will have failed to have been moved by the tragic events which took place in Paris last week. Watching the violent images splashed across our TV screens and almost being able to feel the wave of fear spread across an entire city has been enough to draw millions of people to the streets all around the world in solidarity with one another. However, amongst that fear and violence the resounding message that can be taken from the events can be summed up by a banner held by the protesters in Paris: "Pour la democratie, l'egalite, des libertes" for democracy, equality, and freedoms. It is this message that cannot and should not be ignored by political figures in this country.

We must be clear that it is wholly unacceptable for this tragedy in Paris to be used in such an opportunistic way. Now is the time for a steady and considered approach to our counter terrorism strategy, not knee jerk reactions.

Inevitably, though despite little being known about the offenders or having a clear view of the facts of the events that were still taking place, some took the opportunistic approach of publicly calling for an increase in our surveillance powers or, more specifically, the re-introduction of the Communications Data Bill. This is the same piece of legislation that was nicknamed the Snoopers Charter by its adversaries as it required the Internet Service Providers and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each user's internet browsing, social media activity, emails, calls, internet gaming, and mobile messaging services.

Now that the dust is starting to settle, it has become clear that rather than there being a lack of information about the offenders, as those calling for new powers suggest, it is a lack of resources that led to the French intelligence agencies stopping monitoring them. This is startling similar to the findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who's killers were very much known to the security services. However, due to the offenders having been classed as a low risk, the monitoring of their movements and communications were stopped. This is despite all of the suspected terrorists operating and being vocal in public, surely making them an open and viable target for continued surveillance.

Those who are calling for a return of the Snoopers Charter also appear to have forgotten for the additional powers that they called for as a matter of urgency which have been granted. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act was controversially pushed through Parliament in order to address concerns about extraterritoriality and the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will allow for IP Addresses to be matched to individuals, as well as a number of other measures. It appears almost crass for urgent calls to be made for new legislation one minute yet almost instantly failing to see whether it has been effective.

It is therefore not the powers to monitor terrorist suspects that appear to be lacking, but the resources to continue monitoring all those who pose a threat to our society. It is this that the government should be focusing on. Those failures should be used as a blueprint to re-evaluate the decision making and record keeping processes of the intelligence agencies, as well as the training and resources allocated within the counter terrorism community.

It is worth noting the attitude of the Prime Minister of Norway following the appalling acts committed by Anders Brevik who murdered 77 people, including children, in 2011. Instead of immediately taking to the airwaves to call for greater restrictions on the freedom and communications of its citizens, he called for "more democracy, more openness and greater political participation".

It is important that the horrific events in Paris are approached with the same calm and thoughtfulness as shown by the Norwegian Prime Minister. Placing an entire population under surveillance whilst failing to adequately resource not only the intelligence agencies but those tasked with holding them to account, is both an unacceptable intrusion of our freedoms and creates nothing more than a chilling effect on free expression for anyone communicating in, or with, the UK. Nothing could be further than the calls for Pour la democratie, l'egalite, des libertes.