UK Border Police can take your phone, and everything inside it

What Governments are doing in relation to our phones is a hot topic at the moment, but a new report out of the UK claims that the Border Police can seize your phone and download all the data within it. The procedure can be applied under a domestic anti-terror law, with a blanket power so broad that reasonable suspicion doesn't even need to be established before hand. The report comes by way of UK newspaper The Telegraph:

Officers use counter-terrorism laws to remove a mobile phone from any passenger they wish coming through UK air, sea and international rail ports and then scour their data.

The blanket power is so broad they do not even have to show reasonable suspicion for seizing the device and can retain the information for “as long as is necessary”.

Affected data can include call history, contacts, photos, and who the person is texting or emailing, but not the content of the messages. All border crossings fall under this, be that airports, seaports, even the international rail crossing between the UK and France. An independent reviewer of terror laws, David Anderson QC, is expected to raise concerns and recommend proper checks to ensure this power isn't being abused.

Given the furore across the water at this time, this latest report is surely not going to sit well with travellers to the UK, and even nationals. Speaking personally as a Brit, I can imagine how I'd feel if I were presented with this upon my return from a trip. What do you guys think? A step too far under the cover of 'anti-terror,' or are you happier that action is being taken at all?

Source: The Telegraph

Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

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There are 18 comments. Add yours.

west3man says:

Outrageous.
I would have liked to see some UK sights someday, but this is a deal-breaker.

davmendels says:

Well, Richard, in order to keep consistent I will not be visiting the UK until they backtrack from that stupid law. Pretty much the same with the US. It is a bit of a bother because that cuts on scientific conferences, but... there is no reason that it stops if no one is taking action. Pretty sad.

index1366 says:

Stay away from UK people, it's not safe. Or backup your phones on a flash drive/external hard drive and nuke your phones.

discusschutney says:

Isn't that in line with what the TSA can do in the U.S.?

In any case, there's one thing you can do to stop this:
Have a strong passcode on your device and have it set to being entered every time you switch on the device.
This is an inconvenience, sure, but at least on iOS devices it means that nobody can snoop around in your data.

index1366 says:

Yes, but what if the authorities say that you must unlock the device in order to allow them to download the data?

P.S.: What if people would joke around with the content, and get accused of terrorism? Totally worthless act of precautions.

discusschutney says:

Sure, I'll unlock the phone for the authorities, but only after I have been served a court order.
That's the point here; in the UK European law is in effect and without reasonable cause or a court order they can't force me to relinquish this data.

CORYK333 says:

Plus, I might just happen to "forget" my passcode......who's going to determine if I'm being dishonest or if I'm really just forgetful?? "I'm so sorry, I've entered my usual passcode 5 times & it won't unlock.....my kid must have changed it when I let him play with it before I left"

Emeroid says:

"Affected data can include call history, contacts, photos, and who the person is texting or emailing, but not the content of the messages. "

So they have my phone and they look through the list of text message recipients. You telling me they won't open one too?

index1366 says:

If they think that the contents of the message are suspicious, they could open it up and take a look. Who knows what the small print is hiding...

Richard Devine says:

I think they just download stuff rather than looking through it on the phone, perhaps?

Redstone25 says:

Nice story but total rubbish I'm afraid. I'm an investigator with the UK Customs and we need authority under an act of parliament called Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to view or hear anything stored on a remote server (like voicemail or call listing data), which involves a long application process. Yes we can seize a handset after an offence has been detected if we think it may have evidence of the offence on it but surely you would expect that wouldn't you? Border Force officers may view a handset if they have reasonable grounds to suspect it contains prohibited material (like child porn). Do you really think Customs can be bothered or are interested in viewing what's on some innocent persons phone? Grow up.

Richard Devine says:

Don't think the original story mentioned customs at all? Correct me if i'm wrong of course, but I read it as just the border police, as in passport control, not customs?

Emeroid says:

You sound very naive. I've been into a lot of high security places and I KNOW that they find the time to laugh and joke about security leave escorted people unescorted, and leave applications and documents all over ther desks.
They can be bothered and are interested.

Dev from tipb says:

Before we in the US get too smug, DHS asserts warrantless search rights of electronic devices at our borders, too:

http://www.aclu.org/blog/technology-and-liberty-immigrants-rights-nation...

Ides of Buster says:

Yep. Here in the US, under a policy issued by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2008, US Customs and Border agents have the authority to search travelers mobile devices (including portable hard drives) and seize them indefinitely. And they can search your stuff without any suspicion of wrongdoing:

"In the course of a border search, and absent individualized suspicion, officers can review and analyze the information transported by an individual attempting to enter, reenter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States, subject to the requirements and limitations provided herein."

These psychopaths at DHS hide behind the same terrorism boogyman to justify indiscriminately grabbing your phone and your crotch, while failing to catch the real bad guys.

It's intimidating, ineffective, and it sucks.

Dev from tipb says:

The San Diego paper makes an interesting point, that this could disproportionately hurt CA companies as diverse as Apple, Google, and Disney. These firms all rely on selling to/servicing foreign consumers, who may be less willing to look favorably on Made in America. The timing could not be worse for Apple's "designed in California" campaign.

http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2013/Jul/13/could-nsa-spying-hurt-californi...

DStLouis says:

Being in transit in London last november, I was wondering why they were requesting almost all iPhone for check up, what to they want to find ? ... Now that gives me some possible answers.

But I also notice it was apparently focussed only on iPhone/iPod devices, I havent seen any request for BlackBerry, Android and/or Windows phone (maybe I havent notice). Well in fact they were specifically asking if we were travelling with an iPhone.

khobia2 says:

Another ploy to take away people's rights in the name of 'anti-terror.' We are beginning to live in our own sci-fi movie.