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UK proposes new Counter-Terror bill to address streaming Extremist Content Online

The UK is known as a country that takes global terrorism – including terror attacks, extremist propaganda, online radicalisation and recruitment – very seriously. So far, the UK had a law that forbids anyone from downloading or storing extremist content on their computers. Journalists were an exception if they could prove that they were conducting research and not actually downloading this content for other purposes.

New Law to Help Fight Global Terrorism and Extremism

This new proposed bill would enforce a law also known as “three strikes” that would correct some wrongs in the current counter-terrorism law. While you can’t download or store extremist content in the UK right now, there is no law that forbids streaming that same content online. The new bill is also a part of a broader strategy to fight terrorism in the wake of last year’s Islamist-inspired terror attacks in London and Manchester where 36 lives were lost. The government is planning to limit access to extremist content online and disable terrorists from spreading their propaganda online. It would also cripple extremist communication on the web and ensure more security for UK citizens.The Home Office have said that this new law will apply to anyone who views the same extremist material online three or more times. Any material that is deemed as useful to terrorists, by the UK government will fall under this law. The proposed maximum sentence for such a felony is 10 to 15 years in jail. 

Sajid Javid, the home secretary is the initiator for this bill and it is one of many “digital fixes” he wants to implement. The main goal is to enable the police and security services to keep up with rapid changes in technology. “At the moment it is clearly an offence if you download terrorist-related videos — but not if you stream them. More people are streaming videos now than five years ago and there’s an anomaly in the law,” Mr Javid said.

There are some difficulties this new law could face and they will most likely come from journalists, civil liberties campaigners and maybe even the public. There is a chance that investigative journalism could be mistaken for the “three strike” felony by the government. Questions are also raised by the public. You could have an individual that is doing their own research and streamed extremist content more than 3 times while looking for clues or something else.

The French Example

Such law was proposed by the French government recently but was rejected twice. France tried to make it a criminal offence to ‘habitually’ visit websites that support terrorism. As in the UK, journalists would be excluded if they had a “legitimate reason” for visiting them. The French Constitutional Court struck down this law with an explanation that it limits free speech and the freedom to communicate and share ideas. Another reason to believe that this law has very little chance to get passed in the UK is also the French example. The French law was written in much more detail than the UK bill but was still ruled out by the court under the explanation that it is unclear and even misleading in some parts.

While there is clear will to combat online terrorism in many European countries, freedom of speech almost always comes up as a problem. We clearly need more time and knowledge before we can make a clear difference between extremist propaganda and freedom of speech.

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