Senior officers are considering using Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at every Underground and railway station nationwide.
Privacy campaigners criticised the proposal yesterday. The powers would enable police to stop and search members of the public without any suspicion that they were involved in terrorism.
The Times understands that this would be the first time that the powers would have been used across such a wide area. Police said that Section 44, which must be granted by the Home Secretary for a designated area, would be used only in the event of an escalated terror threat. Officers are being trained to use behavioural profiling to spot suspicious characters during stop- and-search operations.
Privacy experts said that the plan could heighten tensions between the public and police. Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, said: “The history of stop and search in this country is abhorrent. I wouldn’t trust the police to make the right judgment.
“It is well known that stop-and- search powers have created extraordinary tensions among a range of ethnic groups,” he said. “There’s no doubt that extension of the use of those powers would exacerbate those tensions.”
Last month the use of the terror law was criticised by the European Court of Human Rights. It found that Section 44 violated individual freedoms guaranteeing the right to private life.
The court said that the power to search an individual’s clothing and belongings in public involved an element of humiliation that was a clear interference with the right to privacy. Judges also attacked the arbitrary nature of the power as well as the way in which its use was authorised.
Despite this, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that police would continue to use Section 44. The Home Office is appealing against the European Court ruling.
The Metropolitan Police agreed last year to limit its use of the powers after critics claimed that it was discriminating against minority groups. However, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Thomas, of the British Transport Police, told The Times that the powers would be considered for 2012.
Mr Thomas, the Olympic National Transport Security Co-ordinator for the Home Office, said: “If there is a severe level of threat we will be looking to use Section 44 at every Underground and railway station. We are planning on the assumption that there will be a severe threat to the UK during the Games, on the basis that we can then scale down rather than quickly scale up.” He said that if Section 44 was put in place across the country it would not mean that every station would be flooded with officers, but individual stations would be targeted as part of an operation.
Hat Tip: RBN