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UK terror law reviewer says police should have power to demand access to someone’s phone, without judge signoff

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Jonathan Hall QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, appointed by the UK’s Home Secretary, now recommends the removal of a legal safeguard surrounding a law that would allow the UK legal system to arrest individuals who don’t comply with the unlocking of their devices.

The information which we disclose and discuss below is taken from the 220 pages report titled, “The Terrorism Acts in 2019: REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER OF TERRORISM LEGISLATION ON THE OPERATION OF THE TERRORISM ACTS 2000 AND 2006.”

You can read a copy of this report here.

It is worth noting that even Max Hill QC, Hall’s predecessor, advocated for a similar approach, which simply translates to giving more power to police while also reducing the oversight. Hall seems to follow the footsteps of Hill through the latest set of recommendations he makes.

Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is the controversial law which gives the UK police the authority to demand the decryption of devices, essentially by obtaining passwords for any devices that they acquire as a part of the investigation from suspects and criminals.

When individuals deny giving up their passwords, they can be imprisoned for up to two to five years. That being said, such demands from the police must be signed off by a district judge in a magistrates’ court to imprison individuals who deny cooperating.

Now Hall recommends that the legal safeguard, which is nothing but the sign-off from a district judge, must now be eliminated as it does not help in situations such as “high-pressure terrorist investigations.”

Hall stated in the report that giving police such expanded powers would “be a natural fit between the judicial supervision that already exists through warrants of further detention after 48 hours up to a maximum of 14 days, and the consideration of whether permission should be granted to administer an encryption notice, because so much of pre-charge detention under Schedule 8 Terrorism Act 2000 is made necessary by the demands of digital analysis.

The government reviewer also seems to have taken information from various police sources as he stated that he has been “unable to obtain any statistics for the user of power in the context of terrorism investigations.”

“However, what I have picked up anecdotally from a number of different sources, is that the use of section 49 by CT Police is likely to be rare indeed,” Hall’s report read.

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