Police powers to detain travellers without suspicion ‘not lawful’

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Intrusive anti-terrorism powers that give police the right to detain travellers for up to six hours without suspicion, as well as download data from their phones and laptops, are unlawful, a group of MPs has warned.

In its report on the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said powers to access, search, examine, copy and retain data held on personal electronic devices, are so wide as not to be “in accordance with the law”.

The Government has failed to show a need for the “more intrusive powers” under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Committee said, which also permit officers to detain passengers – whether suspicious or not – at ports and airports for up to six hours, as well as take fingerprints and DNA samples.

The group of MPs want a threshold introduced to the more extensive powers so they can only be applied if the examining officer reasonably suspects the person is or has been involved in terrorism.

The Committee’s report welcomed changes to the Schedule 7 powers, which narrow the scope of the powers and reduce the potential for them to clash with the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite the changes, the group of MPs still has concerns the powers to search without suspicion would breach human rights law – namely the right to liberty and security and the right to a private life.

Its report said the Government has “clearly made out a case for a without suspicion power to stop, question and search travellers at ports and airports, given the current nature of the threat from terrorism”. But it went on: “We are not persuaded that the Government has demonstrated the necessity for the more intrusive powers – to detain for up to six hours, to access, search, seize, copy and retain all the information on personal electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets, and to take and retain fingerprints and DNA samples without consent – being exercisable without reasonable suspicion.”

The report adds: “We consider that the current powers to access, search, examine, copy and retain data held on personal electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets, are so wide as not to be ‘in accordance with the law’.”