Last year, terrorists brought violence into the most ordinary aspects of life. From children at a concert and tourists on London’s bridges to worshippers heading home after prayers, dozens of innocent people were brutally murdered. It was sickening, it was scary and it was designed to make us change the way we live.
And some things have changed. In Manchester, communities have found a renewed sense of unity. In London, crash barriers line bridges. In train stations across the country, announcements assure us the police will “sort it”.
But, for most of us, our everyday lives have carried on – and in continuing to take the Tube, go to concerts and attend prayers, our society has stood in proud defiance of terrorists. Collectively, we have refused to give in.
A year later, with very little fanfare, the Government demonstrated once again that it wants to fight terrorism by restricting some of our most basic freedoms. Yesterday, the majority of MPs voted for a new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, legislation that further advances the erosion of our rights and privacy by intruding even more excessively into our everyday thoughts and behaviour.
I was proud to join a small number of colleagues in opposing these dangerous plans – and the Green Party will always stand up for democratic freedoms in the face of terrorist threats.
In an attempt to stop people being brainwashed by extremists, this cack-handed Bill would criminalise curiosity, academic research and journalistic investigations. It creates a new offence so that watching the wrong YouTube video – even just once, even over someone else’s shoulder – could land you with a 15-year prison sentence.
The Government will decide what information it doesn’t want the public to look at, and lock people up if they want to verify something they heard on the news, if their intrigue gets the better of them, or even if they’re keeping an eye on what a family member is watching online.
That is not the behaviour of a government that believes in democratic freedoms – that’s the behaviour of a despot.
The Bill clamps down on what people can share themselves, too. Where currently, certain items of clothing or flags associated with terrorist groups are illegal, now the Government is banning mere photographs of them.
One of most powerful tools against those who promote hate is humour – but under this new law, mocking a far right group’s uniform could make you a criminal.
And if the Lords approve of these plans – which they almost always do – it will be harder than ever to know whether you’re breaking the law or not. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill widens the existing offence of “inviting support for a proscribed organisation”, so that you no longer need to have done so “knowingly”.
That means you could be criminalised for talking about a banned group – perhaps with misjudged sarcasm – in a way that could be at all interpreted as favourable, whether you meant to persuade people to sign up or not.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised concerns these plans could breach freedoms enshrined in law. Liberty has said they make thoughtcrime a reality. Even the Government’s own Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, has described the Bill as “knee-jerk, something-must-be-done lawmaking”. But MPs across Parliament have given it their support.
Far from putting us at ease that the Government is doing all it can to stamp out violent extremism, measures like this seem intentionally designed to spread even more fear.
When threats become unspeakable, unshareable and even unreadable, their power over us only grows.
We must have the right to name our fears and laugh at those who seek to scare us – or risk giving in to terrorists.
Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion