Should we lose civil liberties for national security?

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

Published
image copyrightTwitter
image captionIslamic State posted pictures on Twitter of Talha Asmal preparing for the suicide attack on Baiji

It's a question that's perplexed many. Why would a teenage boy from the UK go to a foreign war zone and become a suicide bomber?

Talha Asmal, from West Yorkshire, was photographed posing for Islamic State before blowing himself up at an Iraqi oil refinery. At 17, he became the country's youngest suicide bomber.

But why and how are some young Britons being radicalised to become jihadists, thus venturing into this foreign war?

It's also a question the government is wrestling with. The Prime Minister raised the issue at a summit of European leaders.

One approach to help combat Islamic radicalism is reaching out into the classroom.

On the outskirts of Nottingham, Impero, a software design business, is waging its own war against the grooming of vulnerable school children by extremists.

Sally-Anne Griffiths, a former teacher, has helped design software that warns schools their pupils are looking at jihadist websites.

She said: "The software allows our schools to monitor the computers used by pupils for key words or phrases that may give cause for concern."

It logs dozens of extremist words and phrases such as "jihadi bride" or "Yodo," short for you only die once.

image captionThe NUT's Peter Flack said we needed to engage with young people more

The software is being piloted at a network of schools, including two in Leicester.

It coincides with the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which comes into force in July.

George Osborne told MPs: "We want to work with schools, mosques and other community institutions to help prevent radicalisation and there's a new statutory duty to do that."

But the repercussions of this latest piece of legislation alarms some teachers.

Peter Flack, of the National Union of Teachers in Leicester, said: "We need to demonstrate to these young people that we respect them and care about them.

"We need to show that we value their views and talk to them and help.

"You can't do that if you are simply looking at control and suppression."

But Ms Griffiths said it was not about spying on children and more about safeguarding them.

image captionNottinghamshire PCC Paddy Tipping said the UK faces some tough choices

She said: "It might just flag up an early warning that this child might be vulnerable. For the teachers, it helps them ask 'let's see if we need to intervene and get some counter-narrative'."

But is there a civil liberties issue here?

Nottinghamshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping has a robust response.

He said: "I'm sure there's a civil liberties concern. It's a big issue.

"But ultimately, we've got to make some tough choices. Do we want young people to go abroad engaging in terrorist activity. We need safeguards on access to some websites and good advice to schools and teachers.

"If we can avoid the harrowing experiences that are taking place, it's got to be the right thing to do."

Under the new act, schools will have "a duty of care" to safeguard pupils tempted to access jihadist social media.

The issues boil down to safeguarding national security or further squeezing civil liberties.

The war against Islamic extremism - even in our schools - is challenging some basic British freedoms.

image captionSally-Anne Griffiths has helped design software that warns schools their pupils are looking at jihadist websites

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