Julian Huppert On Terror Laws Surveillance And The Abuse Of Power

control17:12 Tuesday 20th August 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: The partner of a Guardian journalist is taking legal action after being detained by police under anti-terror laws. It comes as questions grow as to what the Government knew about the decision to take David Miranda into custody. There have been claims the action was heavy-handed, with critics saying Mr Miranda was only held to intimidate his partner Glenn Greewald, who’s published information leaked by the US security whistleblower Edward Snowden. .. Let’s get reaction to the story now from Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, a Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and the LibDem’s Home Affairs Spokesman. (TAPE)
JULIAN HUPPERT: It’s hard to see what the real grounds are. He was detained under Section 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, and I think it’s hard to think of what he was doing as terrorism. He was travelling through the country having talked to a film producer I think. I don’t see that as being something which was right. And this shows just how broad these laws were, the last couple that passed, incredibly broad powers. There was this, which allows people to be detained for nine hours without even having access to a lawyer. There was the Control Orders which said that somebody who’d never been convicted of any crime could be forcibly moved across the country and put under house arrest effectively. Awful things.
CHRIS MANN: The arrested man and his partner who’s the Guardian writer of course are both very angry, and they’re talking about legal action. Do you blame them?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Not in the slightest. I think anybody who’s been held for so long without any really good reasons, having their stuff taken, would be absolutely livid. I think there should be legal action. I think there’ll also be work for the IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to look at the process. And there are real questions for the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary as well. Did they authorise this? It seems like a very foolish thing for them to have done.
CHRIS MANN: We’re hearing from Number 10. They’re admitting that they were kept informed of what was going on. A lot of informing presumably over the whole nine hours. They say though that they didn’t interfere with it, that it wasn’t taking place as a result of anything they said. Are you happy with that reasoning?
JULIAN HUPPERT: And there’s so much still coming out that we’ll have to find out more. Was it genuinely just the police started it? Was it the intelligence services wanted to send a warning to the Guardian? Who knows? I think more will come out over the next few days. But it does look like it was an attempt to harass somebody involved with a journalist. I know that many people don’t want the Guardian to continue to cover the stories that have come from Edward Snowden. But I don’t think this is the correct way to be dealing with it. I’m also on the Home Affairs Select Committee, and we’ll be looking further into it as well.
CHRIS MANN: The White House has confirmed it was given a heads up before he was taken into custody.
JULIAN HUPPERT: I think that just seems astonishing.
CHRIS MANN: We talk about conspiracy. This is right up there, isn’t it?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Absolutely. It seems that the US was warned it seems and Number 10 and the Home Secretary were warned in advance that this was happening. This is not the way this legislation was intended to be used. There are obvious grounds, where if you suspect somebody is coming in with intent to have a terrorism act, there are reasons to question them. I can absolutely understand that. We do need counter-terrorism legislation . This is far far too broad. We’ve already fortunately .. because as Liberal Democrats we’ve insisted on looking at all the counter-terror powers that there were .. we’ve already taken some of them away, toned some of them down. There is already a Bill in front of Parliament which puts more controls on this type of stop. I think we’ll now have to look and see whether we’re controlling it enough.
CHRIS MANN: There’s been an abuse of power?
JULIAN HUPPERT: It seems to me from everything I’ve heard this is an abuse of extremely broad powers.
CHRIS MANN: OK. What can be done quickly to stop this happening again?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well as I say there is already legislation in process. It’s almost at the end of its process through the House of Commons, which will control this. There is also the power of course of the Home Secretary, or senior police officers, to issue some guidance on how this should be used, what they mean by terrorist activity. And I hope that will happen promptly. We go back to Parliament shortly, and I think it will be a hot topic for debate.
CHRIS MANN: It is being claimed that the state is building a formidable surveillance apparatus, which is obviously partly to look at terrorism, but also is being used to prevent journalism. Do you believe that conspiracy theory?
JULIAN HUPPERT: It’s hard to know what to believe and what not to believe at the moment. As you were saying earlier, a lot of this does sound like a conspiracy theorist’s dream, except for the fact that we now know from the White House and from the Government here that some of it is true. And there’s no doubt there is a lot of data that’s held on us. Just last year there were about half a million requests for information on who we had texted, who we had rung. It’s a huge database of all of that information, a series of databases. And I think it’s really high time for a public discussion on what we think is reasonable, what we don’t think is reasonable. We all want to control terrorism. We all want to reduce crime. But we don’t all want to be spied on all of the time. Where’s the balance in that? I think we need to have that discussion. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: That’s Julian Huppert MP for Cambridge and a Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He is his party’s, the Libdem party’s Spokesman for Home Affairs. Now in the last half hour the Home Secretary Theresa May has been talking about the subject, and she said the police did the right thing. (TAPE)
THERESA MAY: I think the first duty of government is to protect the public, to protect our national security. And I think it’s right that the police have a power to ensure that if they believe somebody is in possession, has got in their possession, information that can help terrorists, that could lead to a loss of life, the police are able to act. That’s what our laws enable them to do. But we do have in place an independent reviewer of our terrorism legislation, who is able to look into individual cases, and to assess whether the law has been applied properly.