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Should the authorities be allowed to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act as a way of stopping information being released to the public? That’s the question here.

Two incidents have stressed the fragility of free speech in Britain in the face of police use of anti-terror legislation to seize materials from journalists and academics.

The Independent has reported that British police used the Prevention of Terrorism Act to seize the laptop of Newsnight journalist, Secunder Kermani – who has conducted a series of online interviews with western-born jihadists. According to the BBC police were reacting to communications between the journalist and a man in Syria who was publicly identified as an Islamic State extremist.

Hot on the heels of that report, came the news – also in The Independent – that police used the same legislation to demand the release of video material from King’s College London. KCL had initially declined to hand over a video which was stored in its International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) so the police used the Terrorism Act to secure a court order compelling King’s to release the video.

The actions of the police have been widely condemned. In a series of reports on the issue, Press Gazette quoted a number of sources who expressed alarm at what had happened.

Gavin Millar QC, who has previously written that routine government surveillance of journalists’ communications breaches international law, told Press Gazette that he had heard of three cases in which “forces have threatened to use – but not used – the Terrorism Act in this way in stories involving young men who have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq before returning to Europe and the UK”.

Millar stated that he feels these stories may be under-reported. He said: “Are we not learning about these stories through journalists because of… anxiety that you’ll get an application under the Terrorism Act? So it’s a chilling effect issue.”

Source: Free speech in the chiller as police pounce on journalists and academics – John Jewell | Inforrm’s Blog

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