One notices on Border/Immigration programs that the USA and Canada do sometimes request access to your cell phone, laptop, and/or social media information at the airport. It's also all over the news and confirmed to be legal according to the laws of both countries.

I am yet to see or read about that for the UK. Are the privacy laws specifically for electronic data such as cell phone, laptops, and social media accounts different for a non-British national at UK border crossings?

2 Answers 2


You would be disappointed if you thought you had more rights entering the UK than the US. From this article:

UK activist Muhammad Abdur Rabbani has been charged with obstruction of justice after refusing to provide encryption passwords to police at an airport stop in London. He is due to appear in court in Westminster, England on June 20th.

Rabbani is being charged under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, which allows police to compel British subjects to turn over passwords to encrypted devices. Rabbani was initially stopped in November, and arrested when he refused to provide passwords to local police.

  • Yes I am a little surprise. However also I followed up and did a check and the law seems to indicate specifically the officer only has the right to do so if the person is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. and not just regular immigration trying to determine if one is a genuine visitor. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/11/section/40 Jun 15, 2017 at 17:37
  • @PaulofOsawatomie In the UK there is also the RIPA act which allows just about anyone and his dog to force you to disclose passwords and encryption keys.
    – Berwyn
    Jun 15, 2017 at 17:41
  • 2
    @PaulofOsawatomie The powers under that Act have been used in a broader context, including against journalists only in transit through Heathrow. For instance, David Miranda, the spouse of a journalist with links to Edward Snowden, was detained and questioned for several hours under that Act in 2013. Encrypted information was seized from him. The Court of Appeal granted a Certificate of Incompatibility in early 2016, declaring that the law was incompatible with Mr Miranda's Human Rights, but Parliament has yet to take any action to amend it.
    – Calchas
    Jun 15, 2017 at 17:49

In addition to the other answer, this is a follow up answer with the result of the case.

On September 26th 2017, Muhammed Abdur Rabbani was convicted of obstruction of justice for failing to supply police with the password or PIN for his electronic devices.

Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected the defence, saying he had taken a "calculated risk" to refuse yet again to hand over the Pin and password, despite being warned.

She handed him a conditional discharge - meaning that nothing more will happen if he commits no crime for the next 12 months - and ordered him to pay £600 in costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

His electronic devices have been retained by the Metropolitan Police Force for ongoing examination.

This pretty much puts significant weight behind the lawfulness of the ability for the police to require you to hand over your passwords and PINs at a UK border, under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

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