Muhammad Rabbani, one of the directors of campaign organisation Cage has been found guilty of willfully obstructing police by refusing to hand over his phone and laptop passwords after being stopped by counter-terror police in Heathrow airport.
Rabbani, who has no previous criminal record was given a conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay £620 in costs.
Rabbani wanted to challenge the government’s anti-terror legislation which allows the police to demand passwords to laptops and phones without a warrant. He says his laptop had confidential information about a client and he wanted to protect his privacy.
The judge Emma Arbuthnot said described Rabbani as “of good character,” and acknowledged he was “trying to protect confidential material on his devices,” and noted that “the importance of passwords and PIN numbers in the 21st century cannot be overstated.”
Currently, journalists and lawyers can refuse access but the same right is not afforded to others. Human-rights activists say this breaches a person’s privacy.
Rabbani’s supporters have praised his actions and have hailed this case as a first step in challenging the government’s anti-terror legislation which they claim unfairly targets innocent Muslims.
He was greeted with flowers outside court where he told them:
“If privacy and confidentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned”
Twitter users tweeted messages of support using the hashtag #RightToPrivacy:
Rabbani has said that he will be appealing the decision:
“I want to thank my lawyers and supporters who were here for me today. Of course the decision is not one that we had been hoping for, but the judge understood and expressed this case is complicated.
As the judge mentioned, “the importance of passwords and privacy cannot be overstated in the 21st century.”
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. There are important implications for our collective privacy as s.7 acts as a digital strip search.
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.
CAGE and I are glad we brought this case, and the result indicates that our only option is to change the law. Schedule 7 actively discriminates, and this will hopefully be the start of a number of legal challenges as more people take courage to come forward. We will be appealing this decision and we have won the moral argument.”
Cover photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
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