David Anderson QC set to raise concerns about search powers of border police this week
Thousands of people are having mobile data seized at UK border control points, it has been claimed, as activists and judges fret over the legality of such information collection.
David Anderson QC, who is due to report on stop and search procedures this Wednesday, has raised questions around the use of powers in Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. That’s largely because it is “exercisable without reasonable suspicion”.
Mobile data seizure
“Schedule 7 empowers police officers 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, and detain them for up to nine hours and their possessions for up to a week,” he wrote.
“Data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for substantially longer periods than that.
“Though it is undeniably useful both in disrupting terrorists and in gathering intelligence on terrorist networks, only a tiny proportion of examinations result in a terrorism-related arrest.
“With 24 arrests in 2011/12 to show from 69,109 examinations, that proportion was no more than 0.03 percent.”
Privacy activists are concerned about how much law enforcement can glean from mobile data.
“Seizing and downloading your phone data is the modern equivalent of searching your home and office, searching through family albums and business records alike, and identifying all your friends and family, then keeping this information for years,” Dr Gus Hosein, who heads up Privacy International, told the Daily Telegraph.
“Under law, seizing a mobile phone should be only when the phone is essential to an investigation, and even then certain rules should apply. Without these rules, everyone should be worried.”
The claims come at a time when many are scrutinising government collection of personal data, following the leaks of former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Privacy International has now sued the UK government, over claims it has access to PRISM data on users of major Internet services like Facebook and Google, and is tapping fibre cables entering and exiting the UK border.