Seizure of reporter’s laptop under terrorism laws was ‘not contested’ by BBC – The Guardian

A court order allowing the seizure of a laptop belonging to a Newsnight journalist was not contested by the BBC, police have said.

It had emerged earlier that officers used special counter-terrorism powers to seize a computer belonging to Secunder Kermani.

The BBC had not said which police force was involved, but it has been revealed that Thames Valley police had taken the laptop.

A spokesman for Thames Valley police said: “In order to obtain a court order, officers would have to satisfy the crown court that there were sufficient grounds to justify the issue of a production order under the Terrorism Act. The respondent in any such process can contest the order which can then be heard at a higher court.

“In this particular case, the BBC attended the hearing in August and did not contest the application or decision of the court. Police have since returned the laptop that was the subject of this order.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC does everything it can to protect its reporters’ communication and materials and sought independent expert legal advice in the case of Secunder Kermani. It did not resist Thames Valley’s application for an order under the Terrorism Act in court because the Act does not afford grounds under which it could be opposed. It is troubling that this legislation does not provide the opportunity for the media to mount a freedom of speech defence.”

Police have broad powers under section 32 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which deems any police inquiry into the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” to be termed a “terrorism investigation”.

Kermani, who has also worked for BBC London, Channel 4 News and the Islam Channel, was criticised last year for a Newsnight interview with a British-born Islamic State fighter.

“Awlaki”, a 27-year-old British Pakistani fighter, told the journalist he hated the UK and joked about the group beheading its enemies.

Conservative MPs Michael Ellis and Nigel Evans criticised the BBC2 programme for running the interview, saying it gave the jihadist group a mainstream media platform.

A BBC spokesperson said the man interviewed had publicly identified himself as an Isis member and was not a confidential source. The report “offered insights” into Isis crimes, the BBC said.

Ian Katz, the Newsnight editor, said: “While we would not seek to obstruct any police investigation we are concerned that the use of the Terrorism Act to obtain communication between journalists and sources will make it very difficult for reporters to cover this issue of critical public interest.”


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