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[liberationtech] {Spam?} Re: Travellers' mobile phone data seized by police at border

Paul Bernal (LAW) Paul.Bernal at
Tue Jul 16 06:42:18 PDT 2013

Our police do it to 'suspects' inside the UK too…

"The Metropolitan Police has implemented a system to extract mobile phone data from suspects held in custody. The data includes call history, texts and contacts, and the BBC has learned that it will be retained regardless of whether any charges are brought. The technology is being used in 16 London boroughs, and could potentially be used by police across the UK. Campaign group Privacy International described the move as a "possible breach of human rights law".

Until now, officers had to send mobiles off for forensic examination in order to gather and store data, a process which took several weeks. Under the new system, content will be extracted using purpose built terminals in police stations. It will allow officers to connect a suspect's mobile and produce a print out of data from the device, as well as saving digital records of the content…."

That's from May 2012 -  I'm told informally that it happens very regularly in practice.


Dr Paul Bernal
UEA Law School
University of East Anglia
Norwich Research Park
Norwich NR4 7TJ

email: paul.bernal at
Twitter: @paulbernalUK

On 16 Jul 2013, at 14:31, LilBambi <lilbambi at>

> I think this has been going on in the UK and USA for some time now.
> And I am sure other countries are also doing it, although many might
> not be considered 'free' nations as the UK and USA boast.
> On Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 9:45 AM, Eugen Leitl <eugen at> wrote:
>> (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
>> 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.”
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