June 05, 2017 | Jim Killock

Our response to the London and Manchester Attacks

Some of you will know that ORG for many years had our offices in Borough. It was a daily occurrence for us until summer 2015 to walk and to eat in the places where where Saturday’s appalling events took place.

As Londoners, we are relieved that we do not know anyone who has been directly affected. It is also genuinely shocking, as it was for some of us during the 2005 bombings, to have personal connections with the places involved in brutal terrorist killings. It is a reminder of the personal trauma that is also being felt by our friends and colleagues in Manchester. Many of us feel very exposed in the face of terrorism and violence.

As individuals, it is also natural to ask whether our own views can withstand this kind of onslaught. Is it right to resist or question measures that the government wishes to pursue, which it claims could improve security, or could at least reassure people that everything possible is being done. Is it selfish, or unrealistic, to argue against potential protections when people are seeking to ensure that, as Theresa May put it, “enough is enough”?

However, many people in London and Manchester will not wish these events to be exploited and used to usher in policies that are ill-thought out, illiberal or otherwise seek to exploit the situation. This is not a denial of the vulnerability that we feel, but a desire to ensure that terrorism does not win. These attacks so often occur in cities with very liberal and open outlooks, where there is little or no expectation of political violence, and toleration is a normal way of being.

London and Manchester are both cities with big creative and tech sectors, with many people very aware of what the Internet does, its benefits and also the dangers of attempts to control, censor and surveil. If the government uses these events to pursue policies that are ineffective, meaningless or dangerous, then many of those who feel a personal investment in seeing our communities protected, may quickly feel that these events are being exploited rather than dealt with maturely.

Calls for an end to tolerance of extremism are perhaps even more ill-judged. It is hard to imagine that the public sector has been tolerating extremism, except in relatively isolated examples. These statements could easily lead to over-reactions and quite divisive policy. For instance, the controversial Prevent programme, backed up by legislative anti-extremist quasi-policing duties across many parts of the public sector, could ramp up, leading to serious misjudgements.

It seems particularly harsh to accuse Muslim communities of tolerating extremist views without also recognising that the there are claims that the Manchester attacker had been reported as potentially dangerous by members of his community, and without articulating that extremists wish to create divisions between us. Whatever the changes that may be needed, it would also be wise to recognise that the government too may have had its failings.

We will be looking very carefully at her proposals for online censorship and attempts to limit the security of ordinary users of Internet services. To be clear, we are not saying that there are no measures that could ever be taken. There are already, quite rightly, laws about what is illegal and duties on companies to act when they are instructed. They also do a great deal well beyond their legal duties, because they do not want any association with any kind of criminality.

However, what we have heard so far from the government does not give us confidence that their proposals will necessary, proportionate, and ensure legal accountability. This is what the Conservative manifesto has to say on page 79:

We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.
We will continue to push the internet companies to deliver on their commitments to develop technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda, to help smaller companies build their capabilities and to provide support for civil society organisations to promote alternative and counter-narratives.
… In addition, we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability. (ORG wiki)

We—and we hope you—will want to know: will the proposals work? Will they create new risks or adverse effects? Who will hold the police or companies to account for their decisions, and how? So far, what we have heard does not give us much confidence that we will receive satisfactory answers.

Theresa May’s speech had the feel of electioneering rather than a common-sense, values and evidence based approach. That is simply not being sufficiently serious and respectful about what has happened.


Comments (7)

  1. dave stacey:
    Jun 05, 2017 at 08:13 AM

    Are you for real ? After the London attack on 4.6.17 you want to criticise Theresa May's speech ?
    It's down to soft liberals like you who have given islamists in the uk a stronghold whilst you come out with your garbage.
    Your happy to see civilians slaughtered for some scums human rights !
    You should hang your gutless heads & jelly spines in shame.

  2. Bill H.:
    Jun 05, 2017 at 09:01 AM

    Groups like ISIS , and their sympathisers, are probably rubbing their hands at reactions like yours. That's what they want. They aren't friends of liberalism, or human rights either. They are deliberately trying to polarise issues by these acts of Terror. It's the same thinking as the fascist "Strategy of Tension" in the 1970's. Are you going to give them what they want?

  3. Lord Shellby:
    Jun 05, 2017 at 09:22 AM

    Theresa May’s speech should be criticised where it is obviously wrong. She is using the recent terrorist attacks in order to force through legislation that will have no impact on the ability of terrorists to organise. The regulation she wants to impose is clearly aimed at enabling the government to mass surveil the general populous and to undermine freedom of expression. A side effect of requiring a backdoor into encrypted Internet communications will be to massively damage the UK tech sector, as companies and individuals outside of the UK will not want their data to be at risk of being snooped upon by the likes of GCHQ.

  4. John Dee:
    Jun 05, 2017 at 10:45 AM

    The establishment is running scared of the potential for mass communication and the ability to organise protests that the internet gives to the general public. They see it as a threat to the status quo and hence will use any opportunity that arises to introduce further Orwellian controls.

  5. Filipescu Mircea Alexandru:
    Jun 05, 2017 at 11:00 AM

    None of us want terrorism obviously. What people don't understand is that there is no magical "stop terrorism" button somewhere, which is both effective and does not harm other people in the process. An ideology (good or bad) can never be stopped by shutting people up, the Roman empire tried it against the Christians whom they feared yet the persecutions only made them stronger even 2000 years later! You fight any ideology by educating people, as well as offering society an environment that can obsolete it... not by encouraging more use of force, which only resonates with similar ideologies. The refusal of politicians to understand this will only make it and other problems worse rather than better!

  6. Claire:
    Jun 06, 2017 at 02:27 PM

    Most people don't realise that these measures don't work. ISIS (and similar organisations) have their own messaging apps. Blocking the most popular apps used by the general public is an ineffective smokescreen that will do nothing but generate headlines. Putting backdoors into services just means that eventually someone will post innocent people's data online, either intentionally or by mistake. It's not about being liberal, it's about understanding the technology and distracting people from the real root cause. Please take a look at how countries like Egypt and Turkey handle this kind of thing. I guarantee you wouldn't like it if the police turned up at your house because of a personal opinion you sent to a friend on WhatsApp.

  7. David Frew:
    Jun 06, 2017 at 03:59 PM

    Read George Orwell's 1984; Note that we have been "at war" with terrorism and drugs for the last 20 years or so. Then ask whether the last 200 pieces of Gov't legislation (link below) of terrorism have improved anything........