Should We Ban Suspected Jihadists From Using the Internet?

Following the death of 18-year-old Victorian Jake Bilardi in March, there has been a great deal of discussion amongst politicians and police about how we should prevent ‘impressionable’ young Australians from being swayed to join extremist terrorist groups.

Now, Victorian Police have proposed a plan to subject at-risk youths to intense surveillance and restrictions, including banning them from using the internet.

Other states and territories have also indicated that they may adopt similar schemes.

However, some fear that the laws could unfairly target innocent people, especially members of the Muslim community, and further isolate and stigmatise impressionable young people.

What Are the New Proposals?

The proposals would allow Victorian Police to apply for ‘Community Protection Intervention Orders’ (CPIOs) which would ban individuals from using the internet, place restrictions on their movements and who they can associate with, impose strict curfews, and force them to enrol in ‘de-radicalisation’ programs.

According to recent research, Australian jihadists tend to be young – usually under the age of 30 – with strong family ties, basic education and limited skills.

Authorities have long held concerns about the ease by which extremist groups can recruit young people through the internet. Jihadist groups use the internet to disseminate messages and recruit new members. There are suggestions that the communications are becoming more sophisticated, with mobile encryption programs being used to send secure messages online and via text message.

But is tighter regulation really the answer to this complex problem?

Problems With Current Laws

Police say that the proposals are a necessary addition to the legislative framework, because the scope of existing Preventative Detention Orders is not wide enough.

Currently, the police and other authorities can apply for a preventative detention order (PDO) under Division 105 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 if an AFP member or other issuing authority suspects or is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the subject:

  • Will engage in a terrorist act; or
  • Possesses a thing that is connected with the preparation for, or the engagement of a person in, a terrorist act; or
  • Has done an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act

As discussed in other blogs, PDOs effectively allow authorities to arrest and detain people without formally charging them or giving them reasons for their detention. They are supposedly used as a ‘preventative’ measure against persons suspected of committing a terrorism offence in the near future.

The person making the order must also be satisfied that it would substantially assist in preventing a terrorist act from occurring, and that detaining the person is ‘reasonably necessary’.

A person can also be detained under a PDO if a terrorist act has occurred within the last 28 days and the PDO is reasonably necessary to detain himor her to preserve evidence of, or relating to, the terrorist act. Again, it must be shown that it is ‘reasonably necessary’ to detain the subject for the period specified under the order.

Persons under the age of 16 cannot be subject to a preventative detention order.

Why are CPIOs wanted?

Authorities say that CPIOs would eliminate some of the hurdles required to obtain PDOs – allowing people to be subjected to heavy restrictions even if they are not suspected of planning an ‘imminent’ terrorist attack or considering fleeing overseas to fight with extremist groups.

CPIOs would therefore be much easier to obtain than PDOs or control orders.

And, while the proposals have been put forth by Victorian Police and will only apply in Victoria if successful, the Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula has suggested that a national approach is ‘preferable’ as it would aid agencies in tackling crimes committed across state borders.

The Danger of CPIOs

But although CPIOs have been championed as an effective means to nip radicalisation in the bud, members of the Muslim community and human rights advocates have suggested that they may do more harm than good.

Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside and spokespeople from the Islamic Council agree that ‘picking on’ Muslim youths could in fact ‘drive young people further towards violent extremism.’

There are also serious concerns that the new laws could further stigmatise members of the Muslim community by sending the message that ‘all Muslims are potentially dangerous.’

Burnside is concerned by the fact that the new CPIOs will be easier for authorities to obtain compared to PDOs, which will mean that they could be applied for almost purely on the basis that a person is a Muslim and is therefore naturally perceived as a threat.

The simple fact that CPIOs are much wider in scope than existing PDOs and control orders is also cause for concern, not to mention the fact that they are likely to be targeted towards children under the age of 16, who are inherently more vulnerable than adults. This could see many young people being stripped of their rights under the guise of a supposed terrorism threat.

It is unclear whether the proposals will include safeguards aimed at protecting the rights of young people. Regardless, it is apparent that if the proposal goes ahead, young people could soon find themselves losing basic rights – such as the freedom of association and movement – without any recourse against authorities.

One only has to look at how preventative detention orders were used during the 2014 anti-terrorism raids to detain three men without charge– with one man reportedly assaulted by police – to see the dangers of these measures.

As previously outlined, all of those men were released without any charges being pressed against them at all.

CPIOs would make it a lot easier for police to take away the rights of individuals, without charging them with any crime.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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