Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ex-post facto criminalisation

The government is moving to amend the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. The main change - extending the term before a terrorist organisation's designation must be renewed - is fairly uncontentious, but there is also one which is quite disturbing:

Mr Goff said the Bill also proposed extending two sections of the Act that prohibited the financing of terrorist acts and of designated terrorist entities so that they also covered the intentional financing of non-designated terrorist organisations.

The problem here is that unless this is coupled with a very tight definition of "terrorist organisation" (say, as an organisation which has actually blown something up or killed people, or announced its intention to do so), it risks giving the government the ability to criminalise behaviour after the fact. In other words, to prosecute people for things which were not, or could not possibly be known to be, crimes at the time.

There is also, as with all laws regarding terrorism, a danger of the powers being abused to target organisations whose only "crime" is being disliked by the government. The Terrorism Suppression Act incorporates into its definition of "terrorist act" an exclusion for peaceful protest, strikes and political activity (all of which could be said to be aimed at compelling the government or causing economic damage). A similar exclusion must be incorporated into the definition of "terrorist organisation", to ensure that the government's powers are not abused.

Unfortunately, Phil Goff is in charge of this law. Given his hostility to civil liberties concerns, we should probably expect the worst.