UK: New powers for police to stop suspected foreign agents at UK ports

The UK has further beefed up its counter-terrorism regime with the introduction new powers of detention and questioning at ports of entry when officials believe they are dealing with people "involved in hostile state activity."


"Powers coming into effect today (Thursday 13 August) will allow specially trained police officers to stop, question, and when necessary detain and search individuals travelling through UK ports to determine whether they are involved in hostile state activity.

The new Schedule 3 powers were introduced in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 and created in response to the 2018 Salisbury nerve-agent attack.

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The new powers are just one part of a wider effort to tackle hostile state activity.

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This includes considering whether to follow allies in adopting a form of foreign agent registration, updating the Official Secrets Acts, as well as the case for updating treason laws."

See: Police given new powers to tackle hostile state activity (Home Office, link)

And: The Port Examination Codes of Practice and National Security Determinations Guidance Regulations 2020 - Fact sheet (pdf)

Sam Grant, policy and campaigns manager for civil rights organisation Liberty, has condemned the new powers as excessive and unecessary:

"This power is so broad it could be used to sweep up a vast array of behaviour. This threatens the freedom of all of us to move freely and live our daily lives without unnecessary intrusion – but will be felt most keenly by those who are already most marginalised.

From the Counter-Terror Act this power comes from, to the Government’s damaging Prevent programme, we have moved into a space where the state has overbearing powers on an individual’s freedom, in an attempt to protect individual freedom. That is nonsensical. This also does nothing to keep us safer."

As part of its moves against "hostile state activity", the government announced in March the existence of a previously secret "joint state threats assessment team" (JSTAT) run by MI5, but provided no meaningful details on its operations or how it is held accountable for its actions.

 

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