You could face 15 years in jail for clicking a link under new UK anti-terror law

A controversial new anti-terrorism law punishes any viewing of terrorism-linked material, but some say it also violates human rights

A new UK law, which has just received royal assent, will see anyone found to have clicked on terrorist propaganda handed a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

The new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 which gives UK law enforcement greater powers to investigate suspected hostile activity, also updates existing counter-terrorism law to reflect a more digital age.

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A controversial subsection of the act states that anyone who obtains 'information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism' will be punished under the act.

The only exclusions will be for journalists who are obtaining such information for purposes of reporting news, academic researchers and anyone who had no reason to believe that the obtained documents were likely to contain information regarding terrorism materials.

"Terrorists and hostile states pose a persistent threat to our national security, with the 2017 atrocities and Russia's use of chemical weapons on our soil highlighting the dangers we face," said home secretary Sajid Javid. "Keeping people safe is my number one job and this important piece of legislation will help do that.

"The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act gives the police the powers they need to disrupt plots and punish those who seek to do us harm."

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Not everyone, however, is so excited about the act. Prominent figures such as UN special rapporteur Joe Cannataci highlights the potential privacy implications of enforcing such an inflexible law.

"One should be able to freely browse the internet in private without fear of criminal repercussion as part of the basic enjoyment of the right to privacy and freedom of information, as long as this activity does not actively contribute to further disseminating materials that incite violent and intolerant behaviour," he said, speaking at a visit made to the UK in June 2018.

Cannataci claimed at the time the law, which had a looser scope than the final bill passed on Tuesday, veered too far in the direction of a 'thought crime'.

The professor of law said there is a huge difference between forming an intention to do something and actually carrying out the act, a difference that is essential in defining something in criminal law.

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MPs have also criticised the new law for breaching human rights. Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said: "There is a risk that the mesh of the net is far too fine and catch far too many people...I find a prison sentence of 15 years difficult to countenance when nothing is to be done with the material, it is not passed to a third party, and it is not being collected for a terrorist purpose."

"Criminal law should be limited to the active producers and divulgers of the information, and not extend it to the receiving end," he added.

The bill was first introduced on 6 June 2018 following calls from the Prime Minister in 2017 to take urgent action in the way the country deals with terrorism after the three terrorist attacks in the UK which occurred within three months.

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