Friday, September 14, 2012

Ending arbitrary searches in the UK

In 2010, following an ECHR ruling that they were arbitrary and unlawful, the British government suspended its reviled anti-terrorism "stop and search" powers. Now they look set to do the same to anti-terrorist border searches.

The searches in question allow people at ports or airports to be stopped, searched, and detained by police for up to nine hours - during which they may be DNA tested and must answer questions on pain of criminal prosecution. Like "stop and search", they do not require any suspicion or reasonable cause. And like "stop and search", they have been turned into an exercise in racism, being used overwhelmingly against the UK's Muslim population. Which in turn has eroded public trust from the communities concerned (grabbing people, detaining them, then threatening them with torture abroad unless they become your informants tends to do that).

Its one thing to search people at airports. Its quite another to do so on a completely arbitrary basis, with no safeguards, under conditions reminiscent of a police state. The UK should get rid of these powers - and the sooner, the better.