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End of three-strike rule could leave us all at risk

End of ‘three-click rule’ on terrorist content could leave us all at risk

The dropping of the three-strike click rule from the forthcoming Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill could leave many of us at risk of prison claim human rights advocates and groups.

The new Bill, which gained Royal Assent this week is an update of the previous Act and brings new powers for law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism. But a controversial inclusion was an update to the offence of obtaining information, which the Act says is, ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.’

How does this affect us? Well, the previous Act had a three-strike rule. Which meant that you needed to have clicked on terrorist-related material three times before it became an offence and open to possible legal prosecution.

Now though, the dropping of this rule means that you could be prosecuted if you click on something considered terrorist-related just the once. The move, the government has argued is to reflect the ‘nuanced and changing methods’ use by terrorist organisations such as viewing or streaming content online.

So, technically anyone who clicked on a link to material deemed terrorist in nature could fall foul of the law, which includes up to 15 years in prison, and furthermore say human rights groups could be open to widespread abuse.

Of course, who hasn’t inadvertently clicked on something they shouldn’t have. Well now it could have serious implications. Corey Stoughton from Liberty said that while academics, journalists and those genuinely seeking a better understanding of the issues should be exempt, the Act should take into consideration those who clicked on a link ‘out of foolishness or poor judgements.’

Joseph Cannataci, the UN’s special rapporteur on privacy also criticised the dropping of the three-strike rule, saying the new ruling risked, ‘pushing a bit too much towards thought crime’.

The difference between forming the intention to do something and then actually carrying out the act is still fundamental to criminal law.

- Joseph Cannataci: special rapporteur, United Nations

The government defended the changes, arguing the law still provides for the existing ‘reasonable excuse defence’ which includes the possibility that a person, ‘did not know and had no reason to believe’ any material they accessed contained terrorist propaganda.

In an attempt to counter criticism a Home Office impact assessment stated, ‘once a defendant has raised this defence, the burden of proof to disprove this defence will rest with the prosecution.’

Nevertheless, dear reader, it now pays to be especially careful with your curiosity or accidental clicks because under the new Act you could quickly find yourself in a potentially Kafkaesque nightmare world.


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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