90 Second Read - Hostile State Activity Port Power - 23rd August 2019

Police or designated immigration or customs officers will be able to stop, question, search and detain an individual at a port, airport or border area to determine whether he or she is, or has been, engaged in hostile state activity. The new powers work similarly to those for terrorist activity, with a “hostile act” defined as activity linked to a foreign state which threatens national security, the economic wellbeing of the UK or is an act of serious crime.

If authorised by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, an examining officer can now access, or even destroy, confidential information from an individual if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it is a hostile act.

The powers which have been introduced as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, are a response to the attempted murder of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury last year. The provision will apply across the UK and within one mile of the Northern Ireland land border and at the first place at which a train travelling from the Republic of Ireland stops in Norther Ireland where passengers may leave the train.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has also called for espionage and treason laws in the UK to be revised in response to the threat of hostile activity by Russia and others. The Home Office is said to be considering a “foreign agent registration requirement”, similar to the US, under which agents representing the interests of foreign powers must disclose their relationship, as well as information about related activities and finances.

The register would not be an attempt to encourage those engaged in espionage to declare their activity, rather to regulate legitimate political interests. However, those found not complying or found to have breached the rules after registering would likely be investigated by the security services.

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