David Blunkett has said the "tentacles of terrorism" are reaching out to every corner of the world.
Mr Blunkett highlighted Labour's record in power
The home secretary was speaking in the wake of the terror attacks in Madrid.
Mr Blunkett told Labour delegates at the party's spring conference that being tough on terrorism did not mean being "soft on human rights".
He said the greatest challenge of all was to protect democratic rights in the face of the threat of suicide bombers who had changed all the rules.
He said: "With new forms of terrorism, with the suicide bombers, with those who are prepared not only to take the lives of others but their own, there is no prosecution, there is not punishment, there isn't the usual norms of human and social behaviour."
Terror attacks in Bali, in Istanbul and now in Madrid were attacks on "our pluralism", he said.
At the Manchester gathering Mr Blunkett then went on to flag up Labour's record in government.
He contrasted his performance as home secretary and that of predecessor Jack Straw with the record of Michael Howard when he held the post under John Major.
And he highlighted Labour's achievements in areas such as police numbers, the probation service and dealing with asylum applications.
In his speech, Chancellor Gordon Brown went on the offensive, ahead of key local and European elections later this year.
Mr Brown focused on Labour's record of "stability" and which he contrasted with Tory economic "irresponsibility".
He also launched a sustained attack on the Conservative front bench, which he said was "simply a recession waiting to happen".
He attacked his Tory shadow Oliver Letwin as an "extremist", who wanted to privatise the NHS.
During the weekend, ministers will be trying to put the focus on keynote issues such as the council tax and public services as well as the economy.
But the spectre of continuing questions about the Iraq conflict will be present as the Stop The War Coalition is planning a demonstration near the conference centre on Saturday.
The formal launch of Labour's local election campaign will not be part of the conference.
But Deputy Prime Minister Mr Prescott is expected to use his speech to set the tracks for a campaign accusing Tory and Lib Dem councils of imposing inflation-busting council tax rises.
Ministers are expected to decide which councils face having their tax rises capped within the next two weeks.
Mr Brown highlighted Labour's economic record
In his foreword to the conference programme, Tony Blair pushes the reform agenda, saying "there must be no wavering in our political purpose."
The Conservative spring conference last week saw Michael Howard attack Labour for high taxes and wasteful spending.
Ministers will this week hit back, accusing the Tories of wanting to slash key public services and take Britain out of Europe.