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Britain’s draconian new cybercrime law could open the floodgates for extradition of whistleblowers

zipped-mouthBy Simon Davies

The UK government has drafted new legislation that will empower courts to impose life sentences for serious cybercrime activities. If the bill becomes law, whistleblowers across the world will be exposed to a vastly increased threat of extradition and prosecution.

The Serious Crime Bill has been included in the Queen’s Speech, indicating that the government expects the initiative to be approved by the ruling coalition and by parliament.

All Britain needs to do following a significant disclosure is to claim that its interests have been damaged by a whistleblower in any other country, and then seek extradition of that person to face Europe’s harshest justice.

The Home Office insists that the new law is needed to deal with catastrophic cyber attacks “which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof”.

The national security reference is a clear threat to whistleblowers and is likely to create a chilling effect on disclosure of security files and other related material.

The bill has already come under fire over both its draconian nature and its lack of precision. Last month, the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights raised concerns about the proposals and the scope of such legislation.

“Legal certainty requires that criminal offences are precisely defined so that individuals know how to avoid such sanctions,” its report stated. “Vagueness is not permissible in the definition of criminal offences.”

The Committee’s findings, however, are likely to fall on deaf ears. Prime Minister David Cameron is currently leading an offensive against human rights law and has signalled that Britain may remove the very legal protections that might have acted as a brake on the worst elements of the legislation.

What has passed unnoticed to date is that if the bill is promulgated without amendment, Britain’s national security partnership with the US will have created a Perfect Storm.

In this scenario, all Britain needs to do following a significant disclosure is to claim that its interests have been damaged by a whistleblower in any other country, and then seek extradition of that person to face Europe’s harshest justice.

While many extradition agreements preclude surrender to the US because of the risk of capital punishment, Britain’s extradition arrangements with the majority of countries would not present such a barrier. And under the fast-track European Arrest Warrant framework the UK would barely even need to present a prima facie case to achieve extradition. There would be few – if any – safe havens for whistleblowers and the UK would be free to act as prosecution proxy for the US.