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Schedule 7 powers needs to be scrapped

26th Oct 2017

 

It seems to be no coincidence that Director of Cage, Muhammad Rabbani, was stopped under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on more than 20 occasions.

“You are flagged up for life” once your name is on the system, says leading British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce. “Schedule 7 is an enormous blunderbuss that is overused and the consequence of its overuse is that it is abusive,” says Peirce.

The powers, used by Special Branch officers at ports, airports and international railways stations, are equivalent to the replaced and reviled Section 44 Stop and Search where anyone can be stopped without even suspicion of any wrongdoing. Under the mandate, no less than 400,000 examinations have taken place in what have become fishing trips to draw profiles of Britain’s Muslim community according to critics.

A Durham University study has found that the same individuals have been repeatedly stopped, their phones and credit cards seized, and maladroit questions asked about their religious beliefs and activities. The Federation of Islamic Student Societies has also produced research showing that people from minority ethnic groups, especially Asian backgrounds, were 42 times more likely than white people to be stopped under the powers. It is not just the sheer numbers but the way the same people have been targeted.

The sheer scope of legislation and lack of sufficient oversight has allowed Schedule 7 to be misused, for example, against activists like in November 2015, when volunteers taking aid to a refugee camp in northern France were detained or in March of the same year, when a group of European peace campaigners were stopped. Questions were also raised when was David Miranda was held at Heathrow because authorities believed he was carrying files relating to Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistle-blower.

The case of Rabbani similarly seemed to be a search to obtain information he may have been carrying after returning from a wedding in Qatar at which he had met a man who alleged he had been tortured in the United States. He had downloaded evidence about the allegations onto his laptop and iPhone in order to bring it back into the UK so that he could pass it on to British lawyers.

The verdict against him effectively confirmed that under Schedule 7 and the subsequent guidelines, police have the power to demand access to all electronic devices at an entry-point into the United Kingdom and that refusal to cooperate is a criminal offence. There seems to be no safeguards to protect privacy or legally privileged material especially amid reports that police may covertly downloaded the contents of their phone and sent copies to the British secret services. It is suspected that most of the data is derived from devices belonging to people who were stopped at the request of domestic spy agency MI5.

In 2013, the Supreme Court raised serious concerns about the potential for “serious invasions of personal liberty” because of the lack of safeguards. Though the Government has tried to paper over the concerns by tabling amendments to schedule 7 via the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, the powers remain fatally flawed and subject to great abuse. Liberty has already warned that Schedule 7 is totally unnecessary and needs to be repealed while a study by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has found it is counterproductive, by “silently eroding Muslim communities’ trust and confidence in policing.”

It is about time the Government reviews Schedule 7 and not use it for a fishing expedition and information gathering of the Muslim community. The stop and search must be intelligence-led. What the Government does not seem to understand that the attack on civil liberties of Muslims, both young and old, radicalises Muslims and lose confidence in the police.

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