Friday, October 25, 2013

New police anti-terror powers could be unlawful, say MPs

This article discusses the criticism of a joint committee in the UK on the right to detain travelers and raid their data. The committee says that it is unlawfulness to detain travelers for up to six hours without suspicion, as well as download data from their phones and laptops. Powers to access, search, examine, copy, and retain data held on personal electronic devices is so wide that the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said it is not in accordance with the law.

Given the nature of the information held on these devices, the powers to search without suspicion surely breach human rights laws—especially the right to liberty and security and the right to a private life. The group wants 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 said that the Government has failed to show a need for the "more intrusive powers" under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, 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. JCHR believes the scope of the powers should be narrowed to reduce the potential for them to clash with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The opposing argument is, given the current nature of the threat from international terrorism, it is acceptable that the Government has made out the case for having an unusual power to stop, question and search travelers without suspicion. 

It is vital that the UK Parliament comes to an agreement about this problematic human rights issue, which they hope to do through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill introduced in the House of Commons in May.

-Andree Curran

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