UK anti-terror law allows border cops to seize phone data with no justification

UK border police can seize mobile phone data from anyone entering Britain without any justification. Under an anti-terror law, authorities can examine personal information and retain it for as long as they deem necessary.

Independent British judge, David Anderson QC, published the information in a blog post and will present his concerns over the sweeping powers in a report to parliament on Wednesday.

The powers in question are outlined in Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which empowers police “to stop, examine and search passengers at ports, airports and international rail terminals, compel them to answer questions aimed at determining whether they are terrorists.”

The law also allows cops to detain citizens for up to nine hours and keep their possessions for up to a week. Moreover, data collected from mobile phones and other gadgets can be downloaded and stored for examination for an unspecified length of time.

“Ordinary travellers need to know that their private information will not be taken without good reason, or retained by the police for any longer than is necessary,” said Anderson to the UK’s Daily Telegraph.

He writes in his blog that around half a million people each year are stopped “either on the basis of intelligence or in accordance with guidance contained in a code of practice.” However, about 60,000 of those detained are held for over 15 minutes and some for more than three hours.

Anderson notes that authorities may exercise this right without having to justify their suspicions. Furthermore, there is no wording in the legislation to account for how long any digital information downloaded from a mobile device may be stored.

Similar stop-and-search powers that can be exercised by police officers on the street are currently under review in a six-week consultation by the Home Secretary. It follows a damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which stresses that out of the one million people stopped every year, only 9 per cent are actually arrested.

“Conducting stop and search encounters without reasonable grounds will cause dissatisfaction and upset, and whilst some may think it will help to ‘control the streets’ in the short-term, it may lead to major disorder in the long-term,” wrote the HMIC.

Of particular concern to QC Anderson is how the law is exercised in minority ethnic communities in Britain, as “fewer than half of those selected for examination in each of the past three years have been white.” Moreover, more than a quarter of those searched under the law have defined themselves as Asian or British American.