David Anderson QC says powers used to stop more than 85,000 travellers in 2009/11 may erode trust for some communities
The use of counter-terrorism powers by special branch officers to randomly stop and examine more than 85,000 travellers a year at ports and airports should be reviewed, a government watchdog says.
David Anderson QC – who replaced Lord Carlile as the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation – said 2,687 people were questioned for more than an hour in 2009/10 to establish if they were or could be involved in terrorist activity. A total of 466 people were detained for up to nine hours.
Anderson said the number of travellers detained under the schedule 7 powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 declined in 2010/11, but no official figures have yet been published.
His call for a review follows complaints by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies that people from minority groups, especially Asians, areup to 42 times more likely than white people to be the target of schedule 7 powers.
The Home Office has responded to concerns among minorities "who may believe they are disproportionately affected" by saying it is looking at how the power is used. Officials are to report later this year.
Anderson said that in the absence of a reliable breakdown of the ethnic or religious background of those who are stopped, it is difficult to reach conclusions. But he said his own experience backed up research findings by Durham University that random stops at airports have a negative impact within Muslim communities."Negative experiences included repeated stops of the same individuals; the stress caused to the person stopped and to those travelling with them, as they worry about missing flights or losing baggage; the seizure of mobile phones and credit cards, intrusive and maladroit questions about religious beliefs and community activities; and a feeling they were being targeted as Muslims and used to build up a profiles of Muslim communities," said Anderson in his annual report, published on Monday.
"I heard similar stories myself from Muslim organisations and individuals."
He said he had no doubt that schedule 7 powers were useful in the conviction of terrorists, but that must be weighed against the fact that for some communities it is "bubbling under the surface … eroding trust".
He said there should be a "careful review of the extent and conditions" of the use of schedule 7 powers involving the police, airlines and carriers, port users and the public to ensure there are adequate safeguards."
Terrorism is crime, and should be prosecuted as such wherever possible. A thicket of special powers for dealing with terrorism has grown up over the past 12 years, many of them useful and even necessary," said Anderson.
"But we lose ground to the terrorists if we allow those powers to be operated without sufficient regard for the liberties of innocent people who risk being subjected to them."
The Canadian Tactical Training Academy (CTTA) is an organization devoted to worldwide training of peace and law enforcement officers, as well as all other professionals involved in the fields of security, investigation, protection and the maintenance of order.