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Activist Who Refused to Give Police Passwords Convicted Under Anti-Terror Laws

The director of a human rights non-profit has been convicted under controversial anti-terror laws after failing to hand over his laptop and mobile phone passwords when challenged by police at Heathrow.

Muhammad Rabbani, 36, is the international director of Cage, a sometime controversial group which aims to empower communities affected by the War on Terror.

He was asked to hand over the access credentials by police under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000; a notorious law introduced by Tony Blair’s government which allows UK cops to pull a suspect in for questioning for up to nine hours without any grounds for suspicion.

Rabbani claimed to have had evidence on his laptop from a man he had just interviewed in Qatar alleging he’d been tortured in the US. He was apparently reluctant to let the authorities see the evidence after reports suggested it could be shared with GCHQ or overseas intelligence agencies.

Rabbani’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, argued the case shows the law as it stands doesn’t adequately protect legally privileged material, although it does offer protections to journalists and lawyers to protect sources and clients.

His team is claiming victory, with Westminster magistrate Emma Arbuthnot accepting Rabbani is of “good character” with no previous convictions, and agreeing that "the importance of passwords and privacy cannot be overstated in the 21st century."

Although given a conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay £620 in costs, Rabbani will be lodging an appeal with the High Court.

He has been the subject of police stops at various ports of entry over 20 times and two previous times was detained under Schedule 7 for failing to hand over his passwords and PINs, but on those occasions was released with no further charge, according to the Guardian.

In a statement sent to Infosecurity, Rabbani claimed the law “acts as a digital strip search.”

“Today's judgement based on the judge's and prosecution's acceptance that I am of good character and worthy of belief, highlights the absurdity of the schedule 7 law. They accept that at no point was I under suspicion, and that ultimately this was a matter of having been profiled at a port,” he added.

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

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