What is an Anti-Terrorism Legislation?

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  • Written By: Elise Czajkowski
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 26 January 2020
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Anti-terrorism legislation consists of laws that aim to prevent acts of violence that are aimed at civilians and to catch the perpetrators of such acts and may be enacted in response to a particular terrorism incident. Often, this legislation expands the legal powers of government agencies beyond their usual scope, but the specific provisions of the legislation depend upon the country in which it is enacted and the circumstances under which the suspects are detained.

New anti-terrorism legislation may attempt to define terrorism or a terrorist act. Terrorist acts are broadly thought to be violent acts meant to cause fear in the population, generally with a disregard for the safety of members of that society. Terrorist acts are generally perpetrated by individuals for ideological reasons, and acts of violence carried out by governments or countries are generally not called terrorism but considered acts of war.

Anti-terrorism legislation will generally allow police and intelligence agencies broader leeway in cases related to terrorism than would be allowed in other types of cases. For instance, an intelligence agency may be allowed further access to private records of terrorist suspects than to those of suspects in an ordinary criminal case. Authorities may also be allowed to monitor and eavesdrop on a terrorism suspect without the governmental or judicial permission normally necessary to do so.


Depending on the jurisdiction, anti-terrorism legislation may broaden their authority of the police to detain suspects in terrorism cases. While non-terrorism suspects are generally allowed due process to ensure that they are not unfairly detained, terrorism suspects may not be given those rights. Additionally, the length of time that a terrorism suspect may be detained without having any legal charges brought against them may be much longer than for non-terrorism suspects.

In the court system, anti-terrorism legislation may allow prosecutors to charge terrorist suspects differently than other types of defendants. In some cases, evidence given against a defendant may be kept secret, meaning that the defendant may not know what evidence the government has against them. Punishments for convicted terrorists may be longer or harsher than for other crimes.

Anti-terrorism legislation may also change the way that funding is prioritized in government agencies. Money may be moved into policing and protecting certain areas where terrorist acts, including cyber terrorist attacks, seem likely to occur. The legislation may also require different government agencies, such as a state and federal law enforcement, to share information.

Along with fighting the direct perpetrators of terrorist acts, anti-terrorism legislation may define punishment for those who aid or assist terrorists in any way. This can include those who financially support terrorist groups, or who shield terrorists from prosecution. Tracking the financial dealings of organizations believed to be linked to terrorists acts is often a key component of anti-terrorism legislation.

Often, civil rights advocates will argue against this kind of legislation. Opponents feel that these laws give to much power to the government, while providing little oversight into how these powers are used. Civil rights groups also feel that such legislation invades personal privacy too much.


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