Passengers could be forced to provide fingerprints and DNA samples against their will
Passengers could be forced to provide fingerprints and DNA samples against their will as they pass through airports, under planned changes to anti-terror laws.
By Tim Ross, Political Correspondent
For the first time, customs officials and immigration officers would have the power to take mouth swabs or hair samples without a passenger’s consent, the Home Office confirmed.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is proposing to reform existing powers that police and immigration officers have to stop and search anyone entering the UK, regardless of whether they are suspected terrorists.
The government conceded that there were concerns that the sweeping powers were being “unfairly” applied to Muslims and other minorities.
In a consultation document, Mrs May outlined a series of reforms intended to ensure that searches under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 are used “proportionately” in future.
One option could potentially make it easier for officers to take DNA through mouth swabs or hair samples at an airport or port against a passenger’s wishes.
Currently, such samples can only be taken without consent after the individual has been transferred to a police station, where a superintendent is required to provide authorisation.
Under the planned changes, the requirement to transfer a detainee to a police station to take fingerprints and DNA samples would be dropped. Instead, authorisation would be given for the sample to be taken at the port or airport.
The Home Office said the aim would be ensure “the period of the examination is not extended by having to transfer a person to a police station”.
Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said: “Schedule 7 allows for people to be detained for nine hours and for their DNA to be taken without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
“Despite claims from the Home Office that it plans to reduce powers of DNA sampling, on closer inspection what’s proposed would create new powers to take DNA at ports.
“Making a blunt and discriminatory power even easier to use will do little to alleviate the resentment in communities most affected.”
Ministers are also considering scrapping the power for officers to collect “intimate” DNA samples, of blood or urine, arguing that there is no evidence that such material is more useful in preventing terrorism than mouth swabs.
Strip searches could also be limited so that only genuine suspects would be ordered to comply. The time that an individual can be detained for could be reduced from the current nine hours to six hours or lower, under the reforms.
Mrs May said the powers were “an essential part of the UK’s border security arrangements, helping to protect the public from those travelling across borders to plan, finance, train for and commit terrorism.” The Home Office argued that terrorist groups remain interested in attacking arlines.
“The Government takes all necessary steps to protect the public from individuals who pose a threat to national security,” Mrs May said. “But we want to ensure these powers are used proportionately, and are effective. This consultation seeks the views of the public to help ensure we get this right.”
Figures showed almost 70,000 people were questioned by officers at British ports and airports between April 2011 and March 2012, with nearly 600 providing DNA samples or fingerprints.
Some 45 per cent of the 681 passengers who were detained during the period were of Asian or Asian British origin, while 8 per cent were white, the figures showed.
Liberty said the powers had caused “understandable community resentment” because most of those targeted had been non-white. The organisation is challenging the power at the European Court of Human Rights.