The French and Belgian security services have been heavily criticised in the media for failing to prevent the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
Whilst some criticism may eventually prove to be warranted, much of the negative commentary has been made by people with no appreciation of the difficulties the security services are facing.
It’s far easier to infiltrate a group that is organised and has a command structure with clear goals, such as was the case with the IRA.
ISIS is nothing like that, as it’s content to take responsibility for terrorist attacks that are done in its name but in which it took no active part in its planning.
Therefore a security service can conduct intensive surveillance operations on radicalised individuals, who may never actually be directed by the mother organisation or indeed don’t end up taking that extra step to commit a terrorist act. Therefore the security services resources are being thinly spread covering the activities of far too many people because there is no clear way of identifying between individuals who are all talk and those that will go on to commit violent acts.
This is why our security services not only need additional resources but they also need additional powers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne intends to increase counter-terrorism spending by 30 per cent, but without the enactment of the proposed draft communications bill, it is, to some extent, a waste of money. It may sound draconian but the requirement for internet service providers and mobile phone companies to maintain records of every person’s internet browsing activity, email correspondence, gaming, voice calls and messaging service, for at least 12 months, is essential in this particular fight against terrorism.
Unfortunately, there are still too many people who consider this is a too great infringement on individual human rights and will work to block this act from becoming law.
The security services cannot do their job properly without access to this type of information, although any access should be strictly regulated and have appropriate and independent oversight.
If this country does become the victim of a terrorist attack, it will be unreasonable to lay blame at the feet of our security services, if they have not been provided with the proper tools to do their job. The enactment of this legislation is a priority and it has been delayed for far too long.