Britain’s anti-terror law watchdog has said police should no longer be able to detain people at the nation’s borders without any suspicion of wrongdoing, following the detention of David Miranda in August.
British Home Secretary Theresa May will come under pressure to change the law after David Anderson QC (Queen’s Counsel), the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, gave new advice on the controversial Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act relating to detention at ports and airports.
In a note to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Anderson said that he was setting out new advice after the legislation was put under the spotlight in a number of incidents this year.
One was the nine-hour detention of Miranda, whose journalist partner, Glenn Greenwald, was involved in exposing the extent of US and UK spying based on leaks by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. At the time, Greenwald worked for the Guardian.
Anderson said there must be grounds for suspicion that someone is involved in terrorism before they are held at the border.
He said this test should also apply before any data is downloaded and copied by the authorities.
At present, a person can be detained for up to nine hours without any grounds for suspicion, to determine whether they may be “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”
Anderson’s new guidance comes as the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, is due to appear before the home affairs committee today to answer questions about the paper’s reporting of surveillance by the British government’s communications headquarters and the US National Security Agency.
Miranda has sought a judicial review of his detention, arguing it was a misuse of the act and breached his human rights.
The legislation was also opened up to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights in May. The row over the powers broke out after Miranda was detained in London while returning to his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from Berlin. It was alleged that officials confiscated electronic equipment.
During his trip to Berlin, Miranda visited Laura Poitras, the US filmmaker who has been working with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian had paid for Miranda’s flights as he often assists Greenwald in his work, although he was not a Guardian employee.
Anderson has previously said parliament should consider the “necessity and proportionality” of the Schedule 7 powers, but he set out more detailed views at the request of British Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice Damian Green, and senior Liberal Democrats.
Under his proposals, officials would still be able to search and question passengers without grounds for suspicion, but any delay of more than an hour would need to pass the extra threshold test for a detention.
About 60,000 people were questioned last year under the Schedule 7 powers, while 670 were formally detained, which Anderson said had given rise to resentment among some Muslim groups, who feel they are being singled out.
“My recommendations for further reform include the introduction of a suspicion threshold for the exercise of some Schedule 7 powers, and the improvement of safeguards in relation to private electronic data and other sensitive material of various kinds,” Anderson said. “I do not believe that anything in my recommendations should reduce the efficacy of what is a very useful set of powers, or expose the public to additional risk from terrorism.”