Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Police powers for 2012 Olympics trigger alarm bells

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British government was accused on Tuesday of giving itself draconian powers to clamp down on protests at the 2012 Olympics. Critics said the powers were so broad they would potentially give private contractors the right to forcibly enter people’s homes and seize private property.

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups criticized the powers as top security officials announced plans concerned with keeping the Games, to be held mostly in London, safe from terrorist attack and from “domestic extremists” and public order problems like disruptive protests.

The legislation is directed at curbing advertising near the Olympic venues. A government spokesperson said the laws, passed in 2006, were meant to stop “over-commercialization” of the Games.

But civil rights campaigners are worried about several clauses in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. Section 19(4) could cover protest placards, they said, as it read: “The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including in particular — (a) advertising of a non-commercial nature, and (b) announcements or notices of any kind.”

Section 22 allows a “constable or enforcement officer” to “enter land or premises” where they believe such an advert is being shown or produced. It allows for materials to be destroyed, and for the use of “reasonable force.”

The power to force entry requires a court warrant. Causing still further concern is a section granting the powers to an enforcement officer appointed by Olympic Delivery Authority.

Anita Coles, policy officer for rights group Liberty, said: “This goes much further than protecting the Olympic logo for commercial use. Regulations could ban signs urging boycotts of sponsors with sweat shops. Then private contractors designated by the Olympic authority could enter homes and other premises in the vicinity, seizing or destroying private property.”

The Opposition Conservative home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, said the government did not understand civil liberties.

“They may claim these powers won’t be used but the frank truth is no one will believe them. Neither the police nor any other official should be invading people’s homes for what appear to be commercial reasons,” he said.

A senior government security official said the powers would not be used to suppress protests or political placards. And the assistant police commissioner, Chris Alison, in charge of the policing of the Games, said: “We are not going into people’s houses to stop people protesting.”

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