Call to change law over digital data access

Shafiqul Islam Kazal worked as a senior photographer for several top dailies and edited his own small newspaper.
Shafiqul Islam Kazal worked as a senior photographer for several top dailies and edited his own small newspaper.


A CAMPAIGNER with a London-based rights group was convicted of a terror­ism offence on Monday (25) for refusing to divulge the passwords for his phone and laptop computer to the police.

Muhammad Rabbani, international di­rector at the Cage advocacy group, was stopped for questioning at Heathrow air­port on November 20, 2016 and arrested after refusing to divulge the passwords.

Cage has campaigned since 2003 on behalf of people who have allegedly suf­fered abuses in the United States’ fight against terrorism. It came to international attention over its links to Jihadi John, a British militant, before he went to Syria

Rabbani, who was returning from a wedding in Qatar when he was stopped at Heathrow, told the court he wanted to protect a Qatari client.

“It was a case involving the US against an individual who was allegedly tortured over the course of 12 or 13 years in US custody,” he said.

“There were around 30,000 [docu­ments], which I was especially uncom­fortable handling and I felt an enormous responsibility to try and discharge the trust that was given to me,” he said.

But the court dismissed Rabbani’s argu­ments and handed him a 12-month con­ditional discharge, meaning no further action would be taken unless he commits a further offence.

Rabbani, 36, was also ordered to pay a fine of £620 and police have seized his phone and laptop.

Speaking outside court, Rabbani said the law amounted to a “digital strip-search” and called for the legislation to be changed.

“I took the decision not to raise the de­tails of an important torture case before my arrest and ultimately I have been con­victed of protecting the confidentiality of my client,” he said. “If privacy and confi­dentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned.” Rabbani said he would ap­peal against the decision.

“They accept that at no point was I un­der suspicion and that ultimately this was a matter of having been profiled,” he said, referring to the judge and prosecution.

The head of London’s counter-terror­ism command, Dean Haydon, said the law under which Rabbani was convicted was crucial “to help keep the public safe”.

“Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is a vital tool in the fight against terrorism and we are committed to ensuring the power is used appropriately and propor­tionately, as it was in this case,” he said in a statement.

Schedule 7 was also used in 2013 against the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist behind the Edward Snowden intelligence leaks.

David Miranda was held for nine hours at Heathrow while police questioned him and seized items including his phone and laptop. (AFP, Reuters)