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New laws give dangerous powers to the state

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The Tories rushed through new laws to ‘deal’ with coronavirus—but parts of them are a threat to us all, says Gabby Thorpe
Issue 2697
The Tories want cops to have more powers in a society shaped by coronavirus
The Tories want cops to have more powers in a society shaped by coronavirus (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Tories want to use the coronavirus outbreak to grab more repressive powers for cops and border officials.

Their Emergency Coronavirus Bill, which they rushed through the House of Commons on Monday, is the biggest expansion of state powers outside of times of war.

It’s presented as a package of

temporary emergency measures—and is being accepted as necessary by people who should know better than to trust the Tories.

In reality the bill is an attempt to force through major, permanent changes that give police, border cops and spooks more powers to spy on people and lock them up.

That’s especially bad news for black people, Muslims and people suffering mental distress.

And it has rightly alarmed anti-racists and human rights campaigners.

Martha Spurrier, director of the human rights watchdog Liberty, said, “The changes they are suggesting are not tweaks, they are a drastic reimagining of state powers.”

For a start the bill will give cops more powers to lock people up for no reason.

The government has said police and immigration officers will be able to arrest anyone who “is, or may be, infectious” and take them to a “suitable place” for assessment.

Anyone deemed “potentially infectious” can be detained for up to 48 hours, or 12 hours by immigration officials, while they undergo a screening.

On top that, the bill also makes it easier to lock up indefinitely anyone suffering mental distress.

It wants to change mental health legislation to allow patients to be detained and treated with one doctor’s consent. Currently two doctors’ opinions are needed in order to do this.

And the bill would allow “extension or removal of time limits” on their detention.

Cops and spooks always use terror attacks to demand increased powers to spy on Muslims. Now they’re using the coronavirus outbreak to force through more repressive measures

Both of these changes are sure to be used in a racist way.

The emergency powers will further open the door for Britain’s institutionally racist police force to harass black people and people suffering mental distress.

Black people in England and Wales are already nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.

That rises to 40 times more likely under powers that allow cops to stop people without any grounds for suspicion.

There’s a similar threat aimed at Muslims under provisions that make it easier for cops and spooks to snoop on people.

New powers will make it easier for the government to appoint officials to approve security services’ requests to access people’s data.

That means being allowed to hack people’s phones and computers, tap their calls, read their messages or see their internet history.

And the length of time that cops will get to spy on people will be increased.

Currently they can use these powers for up to three days before being reviewed. Now it will be 12.

Cops and spooks always use terror attacks to demand increased powers to spy on Muslims.

Now they’re using the coronavirus outbreak to force through more repressive measures.

We wouldn’t stand for it at any other time—and we shouldn’t accept it now.

Jeremy Corbyn went along with Boris Johnsons plans
Jeremy Corbyn went along with Boris Johnson’s plans (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Mistake for Labour to gives thumbs up to Tory plans

Attempts by the government to hand themselves extra repressive powers must be resisted.

The Tory government has said that the powers in the bill will not last for more than two years.

But if they’re allowed to hand themselves those powers, then there is no guarantee that they will not extend that period of time as they see fit.

Given the extent of the powers, it’s no surprise that the Tories want to rush them through into law before anything can stop them.

They wanted parliament to nod them all through on Monday of this week without a vote.

Disgracefully, the Labour Party went along with this.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn—known as someone who’s campaigned against repressive state powers—backed the government.

“People understand the need for temporary restrictions to our way of life,” he wrote.

He only meekly called for MPs to get a vote on whether to renew the laws once every six months—a demand so minor that the Tories accepted it.

It’s a dangerous failure by the Labour Party to agree to such serious attacks on the rights of ordinary people.

Demand to open detention centres over coronavirus sickness fears
Demand to open detention centres over coronavirus sickness fears
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Detainees must be set free now

The coronavirus bill will give the same powers to detain people to immigration officers as it does to the cops.

That means anyone coming into the country could find themselves locked up for no reason—another threat to mostly Muslims and black people.

The home secretary will also get the power to close Britain’s borders. Yet rather than locking people up in places where infection can spread, the safest thing is to release people.

Migrants’ rights campaigners have called for the Tories to “immediately” release all detainees after possible coronavirus cases were found in the Colnbrook immigration removal detention centre.

Vulnerable adults at risk

It’s not just potential sufferers that the Tories want to lock away.

They also want to water down the Care Act 2014, which sets outs local authorities’ obligations to safeguard adults at risk of abuse or neglect.

The move would allow local authorities to prioritise the services they offer.

The Tories admit this would apply “even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments”.

Disability Rights UK said, “Given the already broken social care system, this bill will almost inevitably leave many thousands of disabled people without essential support or any rights to request this support.

“Rolling back our rights is not good for anyone and in the current circumstances will put many lives at risk.”

Keeping track via your phone

Britain’s chief scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance said last week that the government could start using location data gathered from phones in order to monitor people.

The Tories have already been accused of asking mobile phone network O2 to provide anonymous tracking data to the government.

Access to location data would allow the government to check whether people are staying at home during the outbreak.

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