UK Anti-Terrorism Proposal Would Clarify Insurance Law on Ransom Payments

By and | November 24, 2014
The U.K. government will introduce anti-terrorism legislation this week requiring internet companies to provide user data to authorities.

The bill, to be published on Nov. 26 and fast-tracked through Parliament so it becomes law before the general election in May, will also restrict the movement of people wanting to travel abroad to fight for extremist organizations and stop insurers providing cover for terrorist ransoms, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a speech in London today.

“These are measures that are necessary to deal with the threat that we face,” May said. “The threat is greater now than it has been at any time” since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, she said.

Under the proposed law, internet-service providers will have to retain information on internet protocol addresses – a number that identifies individual computer devices – and supply it to security services on request to help them track users’ activities.

May’s announcement came after the head of London’s Metropolitan Police Service told BBC television yesterday authorities had foiled as many as five terror attacks in 2014, compared with an average of one in each of the past few years.

“This is a step, but it doesn’t go all the way to ensuring that we can identify all the people we will need to,” May told the BBC yesterday.

In August, the U.K. raised its terror threat to “severe,” the second-highest level, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying the battle against Islamic extremism is a “generational struggle” that will probably last decades.

Passenger Data

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill will include measures to stop Islamic State extremists returning to Britain unless they agree to be subjected to surveillance and restrictions on their movements. It will also provide for enhanced powers to seize passports of suspected Islamist fighters and to force airlines to handover passenger data to U.K. authorities.

The section of the legislation on insurance against terrorist ransoms is to remove uncertainty about what is permitted, May said.

“What we’re doing is clarifying the law in relation to insurance and reinsurance markets in relation to ransom payments,” she said.

May’s proposals are the latest effort by officials concerned about the Internet’s role in luring hundreds of Britons to join Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq and the potential threat they pose if they return. This month, the director of the U.K. surveillance agency GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, said technology companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. were “in denial” about their role in spreading terrorism.

Emergency Legislation

In July, the U.K. government pushed emergency legislation through Parliament to ensure companies keep e-mail, text and phone-call data for a year to help law-enforcement agencies.

A previous, broader, attempt by May to allow security services to access records of website visits and social-media messaging as part of the Communications Data Bill – nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter” – was killed off in 2013 owing to concerns about civil liberties. The Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Cameron’s coalition government, which opposed that legislation, welcomed May’s proposal on IP addresses.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that we need to take action on, rather than proposing an unnecessary, unworkable and disproportionate Snooper’s Charter,” the party said in an e- mailed statement yesterday. “There is absolutely no chance of that illiberal bill coming back under the coalition government.”

An estimated 500 Britons have traveled to fight with Islamic State. Officials are also concerned about Britons’ becoming radicalized by ideology espoused by extremists via the internet.

– With assistance from Thomas Penny in London.

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