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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
How far should the government go to stop terrorism?
The UK government is considering a series of new measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US.
Although the government has ruled out the introduction of compulsory ID cards, other proposals include new regulations concerning extradition, internet surveillance, asylum and money laundering.
New laws could also make it an offence to discriminate against religious groups or to incite hatred against them, in a similar way to the race relation laws.
The Conservatives have indicated that they support such moves but the Liberal Democrats and many Labour backbenchers are concerned that the proposals could be rushed through without any proper debate.
Are such measures a price worth paying if they help to ensure the security of the UK? Or are they an overreaction that would endanger our civil liberties?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
SHANE OWEN, UK
Fighting terrorism effectively means that one should concentrate on the justifications for these acts. If one focuses only on the physical elimination of terrorists I'm afraid that there is simply no end to it. Every additional martyr engenders a multitude of new desperados now and in future.
At a time when young British people are going to be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of the UK can live in peace and safety, I feel the least Muslims living in Britain can do to repay our hospitality and show they appreciate the freedom and right to free speech we enjoy, is to support the nation and respect the feelings of the mothers and fathers of our service men and women and the British people at this time.
Why doesn't the world use the money frozen in the terrorists' accounts to feed the poor people in the country it is found in, also to the people that have been devastated by terror? Sure it will make the terrorists mad, but that would just be too bad, wouldn't it.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has been remarkable. I thoroughly enjoy every one of his speeches.
God Bless us all.
Joy Winter, Scotland
Enough security measures must be taken. However, there must be long-term solutions too.
The increasing popularity of anti-American sentiments among Muslim youth is Osama's strength.
Preventing this attitude will make a difference in the long run and the Muslim community will also
appreciate it. Otherwise, growing anti-American sentiments will be costly for
future generations and terrorism will prevail forever.
Bill Kempton, England
With regard to new laws banning 'incitement to religious hatred' proposed in the UK. I hope that if these are introduced they will be used against the numerous 'Islamic jihad' groups based in Britain who preach intolerance, hatred and violence against 'infidels' and Western society in general.
It's all about respect. As long as humanity doesn't learn how to respect each other's beliefs, religion or opinion, there will be conflicts. Conflicts that can grow as big as they are right now.
At this time, when there is a possibility of terrorist attacks in our country, I think that it might be sensible to bring into use a 'non-emergency' national police phone number, such as 888.
It could even be partly financed by seized assets from terrorist zealots.
At the same time, I would also like to suggest a low-key information campaign to encourage the public to report any suspicious activities near reservoirs, bridges or other sensitive facilities.
How about starting to review foreign policy towards the rest of the world? The people of poorer countries are actual human beings with red blood. We don't want to see any lives lost anywhere in the world.
David Jackson, UK
Technology alone cannot defeat terrorism. The best idea is to increase rights such as privacy.
The idea is that ordinary people will be drawn into supporting lawful authority. To restrict traditional
freedoms such as the right to assembly and free speech simply plays into the hands of the
At the moment the Government should try anything to stop the terrorists. The UK and the world have put up with enough. Why should we let others tell us how to live our lives?
If the government issues me with some form of secure, copy-proofed, hologram carrying, smart chip enabled, high-tech ID card, the first thing I will do with it is mail it to Osama bin Laden. It will be accompanied by a short note saying, "Look! You are winning. You crafty sod, you knew they were too dim NOT to take the bait". What an absolute waste of time and money it would be. Why not spend the cash on aid for the Afghan men, women and children who are going to be the real losers in this fiasco of western hypocrisy, chest beating and self-delusion?
The present arrangements allow the British government to act without the scrutiny of our democratic processes. Effective questioners such as Tam Dalziel, George Galloway, Alex Salmond and Charles Kennedy should surely be afforded a forum in which to explore the thinking and future strategy of the British government.
Scrolling down the comments on this page had me realising that the terrorists (whoever they actually are) have already won this thing hands down. They have induced absolute paranoia and 'terror' of the unknown into popular belief and governments alike.
We are all doomed to a world of government surveillance on our very existence - lovely.
Permit me to mention a concept which is practiced in the state of Colorado: any new law - be it anti-terrorist or not - expires in five years. At that time it must be passed again, or it fades into oblivion. This means that after living with it for a while, we get to vote on it again.
Successive governments over the last 30 years have wanted to introduce compulsory ID cards, but have been afraid that the backlash against their introduction would make any government that imposed them unelectable.
Now this government - one of the most reactionary and control-obsessed that we have ever had - has a perfect opportunity. They will use as their excuse that this is a necessary measure in the fight against terrorism; but in reality the compulsory introduction of ID cards is yet another act of political control - like the removal of a suspect's right to silence and the abolition of the "double jeopardy" law.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
Civil liberty is not something you can give away one minute and take back the next. There is an understandable inertia in government towards control. For example, after WW2 it was years before ID cards, introduced as an emergency measure during the war, were withdrawn in the UK. Before surrendering such freedoms, therefore, every citizen has a duty to future generations to ask, "is this necessary, will it work?" Governments sometimes get it wrong and we, the people, have to tell them when they do. This can be done through elections, the Web, newspapers - any one of a hundred mechanisms that enable us to be free.
Fortunately, our governments are behaving remarkably sensibly at the moment!
As a Police Officer I never found that the lack of an ID card in the UK prevented me from fully identifying any person whom I needed to positively ID.
As a private person I am against the issue of any ID card that I am required to carry. It is one more unnecessary restriction on my liberties. It seems that all politicians can think of in any crisis is to pass yet more Laws. Every thing done by most terrorist groups is already unlawful, why do we need more legislation? The actions in New York were different only in scale, and target, from what the world has had to endure for years, what has changed so much that personal liberties must be overturned?
I don't think many new laws are needed at all. All we need is the fortitude to enforce existing laws properly. Unless existing laws are enforced there is no point producing new ones.
I have to agree with Ken. We do not need any more laws, there are plenty in existence already. What is required is for existing Law to be applied in full as an instrument to catch and punish terrorists and criminals. Put more resources at the disposal of the appropriate authorities, and demand results.
Mark Avey, England
The recent attacks on peaceful Muslims have shown the degree to which we have become indoctrinated with simplistic views of religion.
We must be careful not to support the criminalisation of certain beliefs we don't understand, or are afraid of.
Restricting freedom of belief (fundamental or not)
and bringing in 'Big Brother' totalitarian controls would be irreversible. How many governments give-up power rather than gain it?
If such powers are assumed by our governments, who will defend us if these powers are abused?
We should go after all who fund terrorism with all we have at our disposal, and declare war on them all. Perhaps we should start in Boston or New York where collection cans rattle regularly for "the Cause" of the IRA.
We have had terrorism in this country
for over 30 years. Why do we have to reform
laws now? Are the Government saying that our laws for the past
30 years were useless? Or are they trying to use the attacks on
America as an excuse to implement new laws to interfere with civil liberties?
ID cards should be introduced, but as the Europeans have, and not for
Why is it so easy to declare war but so difficult to introduce ID cards, especially since the majority of people are in favour of them? We continually pander to minority views and are told we live in a democracy. Do what is necessary to protect people's security and stop being weak.
Malc, you're confusing democracy with a tyranny of the majority. It is the mark of a civilised society that it respects the views and the rights of minorities. If we are to go to 'war' in defence of the 'civilised' world, please let's try to remember what both terms mean.
Keith Knight, Switzerland
Good to see Keith Knight advocating a good long war from his ivory tower in neutral Switzerland
As a foreigner living in Japan I have to carry an alien registration card. This kind of system has arguments in its favour but ultimately does nothing to stop people desperate enough to break laws or cause harm. I don't wish to hide but the threat of being held at a police station for not having my papers on my person is simply imprisonment for standing out from the crowd.
Terrorists survive through evasion. ID cards won't stop this. How can such measures be impartial to current and future prejudice? People have talked about responsibilities to protect freedom. What of the responsibility not to provide a new tool to perpetuate intolerance? Spend taxpayers' money on encouraging respect for others not on encouraging suspicion. Surely it is this kind of lack of respect which has allowed things to get this far.
If it is true that the plan for ID cards is to be scrapped I think we are totally mad. Providing national security for the likes of benefit claims is far more important than human rights. No one is suggesting that ID cards were a panacea but it would be infinitely better than the system we have at the moment. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are a soft touch. I have spent most of my working life in the air force and I found possession of an ID card a definite asset on more than one occasion.
Infringement of civil liberties is a concern and it is important to be aware of this. However one has to be alive to enjoy these liberties. It is a sad fact of life in the 21st century that we are not as free as we would like to think we are. In all wars civil liberties are sacrificed for the greater good of achieving freedom and we are at war with terrorism, are we not?
Who are the terrorists? I believe the answer to this question is subjective. Some people who have been labelled terrorists have ended up being world leaders. The ANC was once referred to as a terrorist group by the British government. We are living in a world where the democratic majority has the ultimate say. But this often leaves the minority in any region in the world voiceless and they often resort to terrorism in order to express their grievances. Surprisingly all these powerful countries have in the past participated in sponsoring terrorism around the world with their personal interest guiding them. I am seeing all these events from an outsider's point of view. I wish we all could stop being hypocrites before we start tackling the issue of peace around the world.
I believe when you live under a constant fear of terrorist attack from your neighbours, you don't even mind giving two or three years of your life to the army. Requiring an ID is not even an issue and never has been for me.
So I envy all those people in the world that consider having an ID an act against personal freedom. Unfortunately I cannot relate to that.
If this were a question of altruism at the cost of my own personal freedom, I would refuse, but in this case, it isn't. Now my life is at stake as all of our lives are. The question of added security is one of trading some personal freedom for my life. This is a barter I will gladly accept, if not only for the real risk of dying, but for ease of mind. I hold no reproach for those people in this world who hate western culture. In fact, I'd rather not have to think of them at all.
Once again the US and the UK are engaged in an operation against forces they have equipped and trained. Might I suggest the most effective measure against terrorism would be to stop selling arms and backing one side against another in the pursuit of US interests abroad.
We should never stop at fighting terrorism. There will always be some fanatical regime out there somewhere. The United States government let Bin Laden get too far in recruiting lonely disillusioned Middle Easterners to die for his cause. Most of them have a low level of education and are easily led. David Koresh and Jim Jones did the same with the people in their cults. There will always be some form of terrorist group out there and we should never let our guard down again.
On the one hand, Blair is professing his commitment to eradicating terrorism worldwide. On the other, he allows terrorism to base itself in UK. From the LTTE to the Middle Eastern groups, everybody feels at home in London. In Lancashire, funds are openly collected in the name of a holy war. I don't know which is more laughable, that or Pakistan leading the fight against terrorism.
What terrorists are being referred to when a crackdown is mentioned?
Is it those who detonated several large bombs in the city of London in the early 90's? We heard no global calls for a crackdown then. But hopefully now, the full might of the USA and UN will be applied to finding and bringing to justice the perpetrators of these crimes. The UK will surely be insisting that these terrorists will finally be brought to justice just as soon as the instigators of the more recent attacks.
Cindy Lu Webber, USA
If the UK or the USA takes away our democratic freedoms then the terrorists have won. I advocate introducing stringent security at airports and possible targets like nuclear power plants but I think the proper thing to do is go on the offensive. We need to go after the terrorists soon. Anyone who targets innocent people is a terrorist and a coward, not a freedom fighter, and doesn't deserve the support of anyone.
ID cards would only give more control to the government. As it is the government has too much power over us.
The amount of times the ceasefires have been breached by all organisations, the continued beatings, punishment shootings and murders seem to be a stark reminder to those within the affected areas that no matter what process you voted for, you will never escape their control. The government must not only seek to destroy Bin Laden and his associates, but also destroy the element that laughs behind its back from its own backyard. Freeze the assets of those who perpetrate crime in Northern Ireland, cut off the sources of income that help them in destroying the fragile fabric of our society and show zero tolerance to those who riot for entertainment on our streets night after night. Enough is enough. It applies to the Middle East as much as it does here. If this is what the next generation has to aspire to, then there really is no hope for peace.
I think the Government should not only freeze the assets and funds of terrorists and Heads of State, but also use that money to pay for the UN aid and IMF money that is supplied to these countries.
Any society which is not prepared to defend itself will not and does not deserve to survive. Already you have the 'pacifists' and assorted 'anti groups airing their views which is what the terrorists want so they can exploit your weaknesses.
Read up on what 'fundamentalism' means then come back and tell us we should turn the other cheek.
I used to live in Russia during the Afghan war. It was a bloody and
brutal conflict yet there were no terrorist acts on Russian soil.
I attribute it to the fact that society was not open and
it was difficult for terrorists to "slip through the cracks".
It is obvious that the attackers in the US exploited the freedoms of an open society
to pull off an attack of such magnitude on September 11.
What is needed is a worldwide database of criminals that could be linked into intelligent CCTV systems. Sightings of criminals could then be reported back by the database to police and CCTV owners.
J Hibbon, UK
The government will sneak in as many controversial laws as possible now. The fact is that in Northern Ireland, terrorist clamp-downs have been in operation since the 70s - that didn't stop the Omagh bomb did it? Terrorists are determined - they'll simply move underground. Anyway, arresting people for not having ID is a waste of money and time - would you go clubbing with your mates and carry your only ID card that is probably going to be 20 pounds to replace? What if you loose it then get stopped by the police? Jail?
Who are the terrorists? Russia calls the Chechen rebels terrorists, but the UK media calls them freedom fighters. Margaret Thatcher called the ANC terrorists, now they Rule south Africa. Most of the leaders of Israel were at some point on Britain's "most wanted" list.
Who funds terrorism? Indonesia would argue that the Governments of the UK and USA funded the "terrorists" who sought independence for East Timor. The Governments of Cuba and Russia have in the past funded countless Guerrilla gangs in South America - Western Governments are no better - remember the "Contra's"? Who funded the Mujahadeen?
Until we can answer these difficult questions, it's a bit premature to think about changes to legislation. After all, it wouldn't do to make our own government into criminals, would it?
It is a relatively trivial task to write a virtually unbreakable non-commercial encryption program. Illegal organisations can do this, any government snooping will not monitor cleverly organised crime, just the general public.
Although I agree that the struggle against terrorism should not be an excuse for infringing basic individual freedoms, I cannot see why ID cards cause such a stir.
Here in Belgium people accept ID cards as a way of life, and there are many benefits. Ask yourself why so many refugees would rather go to England? Because once in, they can 'disappear'. ID cards are a small price to pay for a safe and manageable society.
A country that does not have ID cards will always be a soft touch for terrorism and other criminal activities. Britain will pay a high price for pandering to its vocal minorities.
Terrorism is a cancer and must be extracted. As long as we have idiots and religious fanatics in our own country and all over the world, we cannot afford to let our guard down again.
No one is safe and one needs to ask the question, would any peace loving individual want to live under the rule of the Taleban? Put bluntly, we should take some unpopular measures. If that means me having to give up some of my so-called civil rights, then so be it, if it will help save lives. Wake up society, make some sacrifices! We don't need the "bleeding hearts" at this stage of the game.
One government or one nation cannot fight an international terrorist regime, which spreads over 60 countries. Any amount of home policing will have no effect. All governments should abandon harbouring criminals and terrorists of other countries. Why do all the international terrorist organisations have or have had headquarters in UK? The governments of UK and other western countries have a lot to answering and explaining to do, both to their citizens and citizens of world.
Here in Northern Ireland we already have ID cards of a sort - driving licences with photograph and address details, as well as details of motoring offences.
This has not stopped terrorism, drug use is on the increase, and we have typically 200 - 300 deaths on the road every year (four to six times the average number of people killed in the "troubles").
I would not have a problem suffering some inconvenience if it stopped crime, but it doesn't and it won't.
How would ID cards help? We already have an ID system that is designed to stop certain people from travelling abroad in order to commit crimes. Its called a passport. This doesn't seem to have worked, so how will ID cards solve all our problems?
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK
I have nothing to hide. I simply don't want a card.
If I was convinced
that the information would be 100% accurate in all cases; that cards would deter rather than encourage fraud; that they would actually work against the expat 'sleeper' terrorist; that the consequent mandatory supply of DNA, credit, travel and other information was not an abuse of the basic right to privacy; if they worked against terrorism elsewhere in the world e.g. France, the US; if this didn't look just like the old pattern of discredited knee-jerk legislation; if finally this didn't look like a smokescreen for the accumulation of power through information which will inevitably be employed commercially and politically - I still wouldn't want one. I'd lose it in five minutes.
These blanket measures will affect everybody. However, the proposed targets will easily bypass them. So who exactly are these measures supposed to protect us from - ourselves? I don't like the fact that the intelligence services are seeking to deflect the blame for their recent blunders and are cynically driving us further down the dead end path of mass surveillance.
I would give up my civil liberties for the sake of defeating terrorism only temporarily. That is to say, from the time "war" is declared until the conflict is officially concluded. This is great for the traditional "hot" war, but what about a cold war, or a "shadow war" that we seem to be currently facing? This calls for proper debate prior to military action commencing, including a clearly delineated set of requirements to be met determining an actual conclusion to the hostilities. A pretty tall order, to say the least.
Joel Noonan, USA
Around 10 percent of drivers do so without a driving licence. The police are unwilling or unable to force everyone to carry one. The terrorists arrived in the US carrying passports. Whether these were real or fake, an ID card would not have prevented this from happening. So what is the aim of these cards? As an alternative to a passport it would presumably make EU travel easier. However as a stop and search tactic it wouldn't stop anything.
This idea that ID cards will somehow solve all of the problems in Britain is simply foolish. I obviously feel great sympathy to those affected by the WTC attacks but these far reaching actions are too much, too fast. This isn't going to change anything. Will an ID card prevent someone willing to die flying a plane into a building? Will it prevent the rising surge of illegal immigrants? The reality is that the only people who will respect and use this system will be those who have nothing to fear.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you could guarantee that the powers put into people's hands with this new legislation would never be misused then the argument for it might have a place. Sadly this is not and can never be the case. I have also yet to hear a convincing argument that these new surveillance powers would actually provide the information necessary or that ID cards would somehow prevent terrorism. After all, didn't the hijackers have valid passports? I find it interesting to ask people who approve of these measures if they have ever read 1984. As yet no one I know who has read it has said yes.
Kirsty, I have read 1984 and yet I am most definitely in favour of greater security measures. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" - whoever said that? It is truer today than ever. Terrorists of all persuasions represent a discernable fifth column in our society and an absolute threat to the security of Britain and our allies.
I'm concerned that the government will end up trampling over the freedoms of its people in a rush to defend them, and take advantage of public feeling to introduce measures that will eventually be met with hostility. These initiatives have more to do with appearing to address public fears with attention grabbing headlines than effective action.
The proposed new measures are needed, since current legislation appears to be designed to assist those who cause terror, commit crime and disrupt the lives of law-abiding people.
ID cards are a must. Why we have waited this long is beyond my comprehension. The benefits would be seen in reducing serious crime like fraud and would save our society millions of pounds. The only people who don't want these cards are those who have something to hide or are taking others for a ride. Let's put this in place soon.
I object broadly to a lot of the proposed measures. While there is a lot that can be done to counteract terrorism, I don't think things like ID cards and mass snooping are worth the price. Such measures would probably be hugely expensive and no doubt pretty trivial for well-resourced terrorists and criminals to bypass.
We in the UK have been the target of terrorist actions since the 1970s. We already have strong security guidelines in place. What happened in the USA should not be used by the UK government to sweep away our civil rights.
It is pretty clear that laws in Europe need to be tightened. Terrorists should not be able to nest among us freely and without fear. Furthermore people that call for the destruction of democracy and praise people like Bin Laden should be arrested and deported.
You tell me why such individuals would want to live in the west if they
are so committed to fundamentalism? There are plenty of countries where they can practise what they preach. The greatest threat to democracy is democracy itself - protect the values but reign in on the abuse.
ID cards are not going to hurt anybody.
The UK can start by getting rid of extremist groups operating within its own country that provide support to militant outfits around the world.
I'm sure the real reason the government wants to introduce ID cards is so it can create yet another civil service department with all its associated committees and working groups.
As with most sensitive issues, the trick here is finding the right balance. I do feel that if it is necessary to move the line somewhat to ensure our safety from terrorists, then we should do this. I'd rather be safe, and know that someone in the government somewhere was able to read my encrypted emails, than preserve my privacy at the expense of my safety. I do wonder when people go on about the right to privacy, what it is that they are trying to hide.
Freedom and justice must prevail for each and every citizen, irrespective of his or her class, creed, colour, race or religion. Human rights should be protected at any cost and the world must be shown that freedom is eternally supreme compared to religious fanaticism. However, fundamentalism should never be allowed to become a passport to any amount of aggression and terrorism.
The siren song of every dictator is: "Give me some of your freedom and I will protect you." The terrorists have quite simply won if we change our way of life because of their actions.
K Sadler, UK
Having worked in the smart card industry, I can categorically state that any smart card based ID system will be subject to fraud. This will significantly decrease the value of such a system and the benefits will not therefore outweigh the loss of freedom that would accompany the ID cards.
I'm broadly in favour of the proposed steps the government would like to take to tighten up security, including the new regulations and the introduction of ID cards. However, I believe that in a democracy it is important for MPs to debate these issues to ensure that all views are heard. It is also important that these weighty decisions are not made quickly. Therefore I think parliament should be recalled indefinitely and a proper debate carried out on these issues.
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