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[liberationtech] Travellers' mobile phone data seized by police at border

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Jul 15 06:45:50 PDT 2013

(leave your data at home in an encrypted cloud (you cannot
be asked to decrypt data not in your possession), treat 
seized devices as sacrificable due to potential backdoors 
installed during examination so use cheap disposables when 
travelling and restock from a known good source)

Travellers' mobile phone data seized by police at border

Thousands of innocent holidaymakers and travellers are having their phones
seized and personal data downloaded and stored by the police, The Telegraph
can disclose.

Tourist using mobile phone at an airport

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 Photo: ALAMY

By Tom Whitehead, and David Barrett9:01PM BST 13 Jul 2013Comments206 Comments

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

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

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

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

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.”

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