New concerns over right to detain travellers
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Wednesday June 6, 2007
Civil liberty campaigners last night voiced fresh concerns over police and immigration counter-terrorism powers to question and detain for up to nine hours anyone travelling through a British airport, port or railway station.
The Home Office said this week it is to ask parliament to approve changes in the application of the powers, which critics say are the most widely drawn in the current counter-terrorist armoury because the police do not need even a suspicion of terrorist involvement to detain someone.
The exceptional powers, which can be used by police, customs or immigration officers to question and detain travellers, were introduced without controversy under the Terrorism Act 2000, before 9/11, and targeted at Northern Irish paramilitary splinter groups.
A Home Office consultation document to update their operation emerged this week in advance of Thursday's detailed proposals for a new counter-terror bill. But Liberty, the human rights organisation, said in the era of al-Qaida terrorism they were now a licence for “racial profiling” at ports and airports.
Gareth Crossman, Liberty's policy director, said: “These [powers] are even broader than the section 44 stop and search powers of the 2000 Terrorism Act because they allow for somebody to be detained without them being suspected of involvement in terrorism.”
The powers are designed to be used to “detect, deter and disrupt terrorist movements in and out of the UK” and give officers the power to search travellers' luggage and vehicles, strip search their bodies, and seize and retain for up to seven days any property that is found. Access to a solicitor is allowed but the examination will not be suspended pending their arrival.
The revised code of practice proposed by the Home Office this week says that the powers are used exclusively by Special Branch officers “because of the sensitive nature of much of the intelligence which informs their application”.