An independent review of the UK's anti-terrorism laws has found that the British "border patrol" functions much like ours when it comes to electronics. If you're bringing it across the border, it can be seized, searched and the data retained indefinitely.
Officers use counter-terrorism laws to remove a mobile phone from any passenger they wish coming through UK air, sea and international rail ports and then scour their data.
The blanket power is so broad they do not even have to show reasonable suspicion for seizing the device and can retain the information for “as long as is necessary”.
Data can include call history, contact books, photos and who the person is texting or emailing, although not the contents of messages.
UK police officers are also authorized to do this to UK citizens, although they are limited to seizing the phone and downloading information only after making an arrest. The border control officers have no such limitations. Scotland Yard, which is in charge of the UK's counterterrorism efforts, spells out travelers' rights this way:
Under the Terrorism Act 2000 a person may be detained and questioned for up to nine hours to determine if that individual is a person concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism as outlined in the Act.
Any person being detained can have their electronics (and contained data) seized. Their data is retained even if no charges are pressed.
Under the Act, police or border staff can question and even hold someone while they ascertain whether the individual poses a terrorism risk. But no prior authorization is needed for the person to be stopped and there does not have to be any suspicion. It means a police officer can stop any passenger at random, scour their phone and download and retain data, even of the individual is then immediately allowed to proceed.
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of the UK's anti-terrorism policies, says he expects to "raise concerns" during his annual review. That's nice of him, but he seems to be a little too comfortable publicly espousing the "company line."
Mr Anderson said: “Information downloaded from mobile phones seized at ports has been very useful in disrupting terrorists and bringing them to justice.
“But 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.”
One can easily see where this is headed. Anderson will raise "concerns," which will be addressed by redefining terms like "good reason" and "necessary." That is, if the UK's border protection continues to align with the United States model. Anderson believes this unchecked power is a "useful tool" in the fight against terrorism, and as such, is unlikely to raise severe objections to its continued use.
Even the statements from Scotland Yard defending this tactic have an eerie familiarity.
As with any power to detain an individual it is used appropriately and proportionally and is always subject to scrutiny by an independent reviewer of UK anti-terror laws.
Yes, that's right. Here in the US we also
have nothing to fear. Everything the NSA, FBI, DHS, CBP and other acronymed agencies do under the guise of "fighting terrorism" is completely above board, subject to rigorous oversight and 100% legal
. It only seems
like an intrusive violation of privacy and an abuse of basic civil liberties, something that governments should be protecting us from
rather than subjecting us to
And as for that "independent review," it seems as though Anderson is already at least halfway in agreement with Scotland Yard on the perceived necessity of these policies, something that doesn't bode well for international travelers.