Any person passing through the UK via air, sea or international rail ports can have their phones seized and their data scourged. Using Anti-terrorism laws, law enforcement officials are able to copy all the contact information photos, information of who receives texts or emails using that phone and can retain the phone as long as necessary.
Taken from The Telegraph:
Travellers’ mobile phone data seized by police at border
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.
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, is expected to raise concerns over the power in his annual report this week.
He will call for proper checks and balances to ensure it is not being abused.
It echoes concerns surrounding an almost identical power police can use on the streets of the UK, which is being reviewed by the Information Commissioner.
However, in those circumstances police must have grounds for suspicion and the phone can only be seized if the individual is arrested.
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.”
Up to 60,000 people a year are “stopped and examined” as they enter or return to the UK under powers contained in the Terrorism Act 2000.
It is not known how many of those have their phone data taken.
Dr Gus Hosein, of the campaign group Privacy International, said: “We are extremely concerned by these intrusive tactics that have been highlighted by the independent terrorism reviewer.
“These practices have been taking place under the radar for far too long and if Mr Anderson calls for reform and new safeguards we would be very supportive of that.”
He added: “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.
“If you were on the other side of the border, the police would rightly have to apply for warrants and follow strict guidelines. But nowhere in Britain do you have less rights than at the border.
“Under law, seizing a mobile phone should be only when the phone is essential to an investigation, and then even certain rules should apply. Without these rules, everyone should be worried.”
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.
It has been a grey area as to whether the act specifically allowed for phone data to be downloaded and recorded.
But last month, Damian Green, the policing minister, laid an amendment to the anti-social behaviour, crime and policing bill, which is currently going through Parliament.
It makes the express provision for the copying and retention of information from a seized item.
The ability to potentially retain the data indefinitely could also spark a fresh row over civil liberties similar to the controversy around DNA sample.
Laws had to be changed to end the retention of the DNA of innocent people after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2008 that keeping them was unlawful.
Mr Anderson is expected to stress he is not against the power and that it is a useful tool in the fight against terrorism but that it must be used appropriately.
In his report last year Mr Anderson said the general power to stop people under the terror laws were “formidable” and “among the strongest of all police powers”.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, is already investigating whether the use of similar powers by police who arrest people are appropriate.
It emerged last year that seven police forces had installed technology that allowed officers to download data from suspects’ phones but one industry expert suggested at least half of forces in England and Wales could be extracting mobile phone data in police stations.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard, which has national responsibilities for counter-terrorism, said: “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.
“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.
“Holding and properly using intelligence gained from such stops is a key part of fighting crime, pursuing offenders and protecting the public.”