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New Powers for U.K. Police to Tackle Hostile State Activity and Terrorism at Borders

Police at U.K. ports will be able to stop, question, search and detain individuals to determine whether they are a spy as part of a range of measures put before Parliament on June 8.

The new Schedule 3 powers were introduced as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, in response to the poisoning of five people in Salisbury using a military-grade nerve agent. Dawn Sturgess, one of the victims, tragically later died. The U.K. government is certain that the two suspects charged for the Salisbury nerve agent attack are Russian Military Intelligence officers and that the attack was almost certainly approved at a senior level of the Russian state.

The British government has also updated its code of practice on the use of existing Schedule 7 powers, which give the police the power to stop and detain people at ports in relation to terrorist activity.

Security Minister James Brokenshire said that both Schedule 3 and 7 strike the right balance between protecting the rights of those who could be stopped and keeping the public safe.

The Schedule 3 powers will help to protect the U.K. from the threat from states who seek to undermine and destabilize the country to pursue their own agendas.

Both codes of practice set out the processes governing how these powers will be used and overseen. They include robust safeguards and provide special protections for confidential material and journalistic sources.

The government has also issued proposed revisions to guidance for police and relevant law enforcement authorities about the making or renewing of a national security determination for the retention and use of biometric material for national security purposes.

The biometric retention guidance primarily reflects amendments made by Schedule 2 to the 2019 Act to National Security Determinations (NSDs). NSDs allow the biometrics (fingerprints and DNA profiles) of unconvicted individuals of national security interest to be retained after initial specified statutory periods have expired, if doing so is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of national security. 

The changes announced on June 8 include: 

  • increasing the maximum length of an NSD from two to five years; 
  • allowing any Chief Officer of a police force in England and Wales to make an NSD in respect of biometric data taken by any police force in England and Wales; 
  • allowing multiple sets of fingerprints relating to the same individual to be retained under a single NSD; 
  • bringing the rules applying to the automatic retention of biometric data of persons arrested for qualifying terrorism offences under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 into line with those applying to persons arrested for the same offences under the Terrorism Act 2000; and
  • making clear that in circumstances where an individual has been arrested but not convicted of a non-terrorist related offence, the biometric data can be further retained for a reasonable period to allow for an NSD to be considered if appropriate, and that if an NSD application is being considered a reasonable period may be up to six months. 

The British government says operational experience has shown that the previous two-year length was too short in many cases, and that those involved in terrorism will often pose a more enduring threat than this. 

Britain is facing a growing problem with illegal migrants accessing the U.K. via sea. Since the country went into ‘lockdown’ in March, more than 1000 migrants have attempted to reach Britain by boat, and on June 3 alone 166 migrants were stopped when they tried to land their boats on the Kent coast. One boat contained 48 males and 16 females who presented themselves as Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Afghani.

Read the updated codes of practice at the U.K. government library

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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