WIDE-RANGING powers to
enable the police to run the internet and the rest of
Britain’s information superhighway in the event of a terrorist
attack will be unveiled this week.
The Civil Contingencies Bill will seek to modernise
Britain’s response to national emergencies by protecting the
country from attacks on the infrastructure including the
“electronic network” and the water, electricity and telephone
Airlines, the transport network, town halls and the postal
service could also come under police direction in the event of
a national disaster.
The bill, to be unveiled by Douglas Alexander, a senior
Cabinet Office minister, this Thursday will give ministers
powers to issue orders to internet service providers and those
utilities that rely on the web.
It will also lay down new rules to ensure that all local
authorities have audited plans to deal with potential threats.
Senior officers will have powers to enlist any member of
the public to help civil defence staff. They will be able to
commandeer equipment and buildings, for which the owners will
receive financial compensation.
However, in a move designed to allay fears that the bill
could pave the way for regional police states, ministers have
decided against giving the police powers to run the BBC.
The police already have extensive authority to control some
parts of the national infrastructure and order rapid
evacuation of large areas, such as city centres.
But ministers say the existing 1920 Emergency Powers Act is
out of date. “The bill will recognise the new scale of threat
by widening the definition of what an emergency is,” said one
Whitehall source. “We are concerned that people might try to
target the City or the information network and the internet.
“A serious attack to stop information being circulated
through the internet and electronic highway was not envisaged
by the original act. The new bill will allow police to take on
special legislative measures to deal with the threat.”
A draft version of the bill proposes that ministers will be
able to invoke regional or local states of emergency with any
situation that “causes or may cause serious harm to the
welfare of the public”.
These range from an accident involving motor traffic,
flooding or an environmental disaster to a biological,
chemical or nuclear dirty bomb attack.
Officials yesterday played down the suggestion that the
bill would give police draconian new powers but pointed out it
would allow the powers to be used in wider areas.
“The bill is about timely modernisation, about bringing
things up to the 21st century,” said one insider. “Computer
networks, water, electricity and gas utilities could all be
targets and obviously that has big knock-on effects.
“The more we get information online, the more people have
broadband, the more that hospitals and electricity generators
rely on the internet and electronic information.”
Firemen as well as police will be able to cordon off
streets to remove or contain people in the event of a major
Those impeding a police officer or civil contingency force
soldier will face big fines or could be restrained by