A British human rights activist faces possible jail time for not revealing his phone and laptop’s passwords when he was stopped and questioned by police at Heathrow airport last November.
Muhammad Rabbani of campaign group Cage was returning home from a trip abroad when he was subjected to Schedule 7 questioning at London’s Heathrow airport.
Rabbani, who is a UK citizen, refused to give up his passwords and now faces a three-month prison sentence for not allowing airport authorities access to copy the entire content of his digital life.
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Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives police the power to search someone they suspect of terrorism at UK ports and airports.
Bleeping Computer reports:
According to Rabbani’s account, UK authorities have stopped him while returning from a trip abroad, where he was investigating a sensitive case of human torture.
UK counter-terrorism officers invoked the “Schedule 7” section of the UK Terrorism Act, a law that allows UK authorities to detain and question any person entering or leaving the country, regardless if he’s a British or foreign national.
Rabbani stopped at least 20 times before
Rabbani says he was stopped at least 20 other times by UK authorities under Section 7, but this time around officers wanted to check his electronic devices.
Since Rabbani stores information on highly sensitive subjects, all devices were password protected. Due to the sensitive nature of this information, Rabbani politely declined to provide the password to the UK counter-terrorism officer.
After three and a half hours of questioning, Rabbani was arrested for failing to cooperate with authorities. The CAGE director was later released on bail, on the same day, nine hours later.
He is scheduled to appear in court this week and will find out if UK authorities plan to file charges for failure to cooperate under Section 7, which carries a sentence of up to three months in prison.
Rabbani claims UK authorities are abusing the law
All of this because Rabbani did not want agents to copy the content of his electronic devices after he gave them the passwords. All his devices remained in police custody after his arrest.
Rabbani argues that there was no reason to stop him for questioning, as he didn’t have a criminal record, wasn’t arrested before, and has been questioned many times before.
Furthermore, the officer questioning him said told Rabbani he was not suspected of any wrongdoing, yet he was still arrested just because he refused to give up his passwords.
Rabbani and his organization are now claiming UK officials are using Section 7 outside of its scope.
“Schedule 7 is an enormous blunderbuss that is over-used and the consequence of its overuse is that it is abusive,” Rabbani says. “It affects almost every Muslim in ever-increasing numbers who contemplates traveling. It is not just the sheer number of Muslims stopped but that the same people are stopped repeatedly. Once on the system, you are flagged up for life.”
“Statistics [infographic] show that Schedule 7 stops amount to racial profiling, with 88.4% detained coming from an ethnic minority background. Only 5 people were arrested out of roughly 20,000 that were stopped last year,” added Ibrahim Mohamoud, spokesperson for CAGE. “Clearly, huge numbers of innocent people are being interrogated and their data confiscated from them. Where is all this data being stored? With whom is it being shared? How does one remove themselves from these databases? These are some of the wider questions that Mr. Rabbani wishes to raise.”
Rabbani and CAGE have set up a campaign website to support his cause.
Not the first case
Last year, a Florida judge ruled that a man suspected of voyeurism must provide his iPhone password to police to verify accusations.
Earlier this year, the US was debating a measure to force visa applications to reveal passwords for their social media accounts if they want to receive passage to the United States.
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