The threat to the UK and our interests from international terrorism is severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely.
The terrorist threats we face now are more diverse than before, dispersed across a wider geographical area, and often in countries without effective governance. We therefore face an unpredictable situation, with potentially more frequent, less sophisticated terrorist attacks.
The most significant terrorist threat to the UK and our interests overseas comes from the Al Qa’ida senior leadership based in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and their affiliates and supporters in other areas.
The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in the Home Office, works to counter the threat from terrorism. Their work is covered in the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.
The strategy is based on 4 areas of work:
We are developing and improving our work to protect the UK from terrorism. In particular, we are:
carrying out a communications capabilities development programme, which will give us the ability to continue to protect the public in the future, as internet-based communications become increasingly widespread
using science and technology to counter the threat from terrorism
supporting the UK security industry to export their products and expertise to other countries hosting major international events
working with the Northern Ireland Office and the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland to help counter the severe threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland
National Security Strategy
In October 2010, the government published a new National Security Strategy which identified terrorism as one of the 4 highest risks we face. In the strategy we committed to giving top priority to countering the threat from terrorism at home and overseas.
In July 2011, we published the third version of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. The strategy set out the threat we face and our priorities for dealing with it through to 2015.
Review of counter-terrorism powers
In January 2011 the Home Secretary published the findings from the review of the most sensitive CT and security powers. This led to 3 new pieces of legislation (see below).
Review of the Prevent strategy
In 2011 Lord Carlile of Berriew carried out a review into the Prevent strategy. After the consultation we updated the strategy. We now deal more proportionately with all kinds of terrorist threat and concentrate on some aspects of non-violent extremism that create an environment conducive to radicalisation.
Bills and legislation
Terrorism Act 2000
The Terrorism Act 2000 provides the legal basis for prosecuting terrorists and proscribing organisations (ie banning them from operating in the UK).
The Home Office publishes the criteria for proscribing organisations and a list of the organisations that are proscribed.
Protection of Freedoms Act 2012
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 repealed the stop and search powers known as ‘Section 44’ and replaced them with fairer and more specific powers.
The new stop and search powers enable the police to protect the public but also make sure that there are strong safeguards to prevent a return to the previous excessive use of stop and search without suspicion.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 also reduced the maximum period that a terrorist suspect could be detained before they are charged or released from 28 to 14 days. Control orders were repealed and replaced with a more streamlined and less intrusive system.
The act ended the use of the most intrusive Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) powers by local authorities to investigate low level offences. It introduced a requirement that applications by local authorities to use any RIPA techniques must be approved by a magistrate.
Find out more about RIPA
Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011
In December 2011 the Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011 introduced the new system of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.
These measures protect the public from the small number of people who pose a real terrorist threat to our security but who cannot be prosecuted, or in the case of foreign nationals, deported.
Communications data legislation
We published a draft Communications Data Bill on 14 June 2012. A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament scrutinised the draft Bill and reported on 11 December 2012. The Intelligence and Security Committee also conducted its own inquiry into the draft Bill and published its full report, Access to communications data by the intelligence and security agencies, on 5 February 2013. In their findings both committees recognised the need for new laws.
Communications data acquisition powers are primarily regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which contains a number of robust safeguards and is fully compliant with the UK’s human rights obligations.
The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) was passed in July 2014. The legislation was brought forward after the European Court of Justice declared the European Data Retention Directive (which formed the basis of the 2009 UK regulations governing the retention of communications data by communication service providers) invalid. The Act maintains the status quo by providing a clear basis in UK law for the retention of communications data; however its provisions expire at the end of 2016.
Gaps in communications data capabilities have a serious impact on our law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ ability to do their jobs. One such gap is internet protocol (IP) address resolution. The Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a provision on IP resolution. This will improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to identify which device is responsible for sending a communication on the internet or accessing an internet communications service.
This is a significant step in the right direction but further legislation is needed to address the capability gaps we still face. We need to ensure that cyberspace does not become a haven for terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals.
Read more about communications data.
Justice and Security Bill
The Justice and Security Bill is being considered by Parliament. The bill will:
make the government and the intelligence services more accountable to the courts – it will introduce Closed Material Hearings in a very limited number of cases, so the court will be able to hear the case - and see all the evidence - regardless of how much information relating to national security is involved
stop people, including those with no connection to the UK, using the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction of the court to get access to intelligence material which, if made public, could compromise national security
make the intelligence services more accountable to Parliament for their actions - the bill extends the committee’s remit and improves Parliamentary oversight so that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, will have the final say on the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee
Who we’ve consulted
Over the last 2 years the Home Office has consulted with the public and relevant interested parties on a number of issues relating to counter terrorism.
In November 2010 we undertook a 3 month consultation process about the Prevent strategy - this resulted in a revised and updated strategy published in June 2011.
In March 2011 we consulted on a new code of practice for the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems and other similar surveillance systems.
In September 2011 we consulted on proposals to introduce a statutory authority to carry scheme, which would prevent individuals who pose a terrorist threat from flying to the UK. We published the government response in April 2012, together with the final security and travel bans authority to carry scheme, which came into effect in July 2012.
In February 2012 we consulted on a draft code of practice for counter-terrorism stop and search powers. This consultation followed the review of the counter-terrorism and security powers, which recommended that existing stop and search powers be replaced with more specific measures. Following the consultation we made a number of changes to the code of practice to ensure the powers are used fairly and effectively. The code of practice came into operation in July 2012.
In September 2012 we consulted on the operation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in order to ensure that the operation of its powers is necessary and proportionate. We are now reviewing possible improvements to the powers.
In December 2012 we consulted on a revised code of practice governing independent custody visiting for England and Wales. In March 2013 we published a summary of responses and the final code of practice.