Yes, that's what officer 0801 from West Midlands Police told me today at Birmingham Airport when I said "No comment" to his surprising question: "Have you been involved in organising any protests in this country?" And since I was held for one and a half hours to be asked such silly questions, I thought I would waste another hour and a half writing about it.
It is well known that the "right to silence" is a legal protection given to people undergoing police interrogation or trial. The right is recognised in many of the world's legal systems. In the UK, it was first codified in the Judges' Rules in 1912 (see Wikipedia's entry).
In 1996, the European Court of Human Rights held that "the right to remain silent under police questioning and the privilege against self-incrimination are generally recognised international standards which lie at the heart of the notion of a fair procedure under Article 6 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]." (see these interesting cases 1 | 2 ).
Under the Terrorism Act 2000, however, this right, along with many others, was eroded. Schedule 7 (Port and Border Controls) states that "a person who is questioned under paragraph 2 or 3 must give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests." The purpose of this is supposed to be "determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b)." That is, whether he "has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism." But Article 2.4. of the mentioned Schedule goes on to say that "an examining officer may exercise his powers under this paragraph whether or not he has grounds for suspecting that a person falls within section 40(1)(b)."
The 'examining officer' also has the power to "search anything which [the person] has with him, or which belongs to him", and to hold him for up to 9 hours for the purpose of "examination". Should the person not comply with any of the above, including "wilfully obstructing, or seeking to frustrate, a search or examination", then he or she is deemed to have committed an offence punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or both.
Of course, officer 0801 did not read me my rights or mention that, under the same law, I had the right to consult a solicitor and inform someone that I am being held for questioning. It was only after my detention exceeded an hour that a senior police officer came in and explained the procedures for me. In fact, I have been told, in previous incidents, that I could not make any phone calls when I asked to let my friend, who was waiting for me outside with his car, know that I was going to be delayed a bit.
Now my theory is that police are using these 'examinations' at ports and airports to build a huge database, not only about migrants and 'potential terrorists' but also about dissent groups and activists. The other goal could well be to recruit spies, as I argued here. I do not have any evidence to support my allegations but, from personal experience, I can assure you that they are as interested in leftist and anarchist 'stuff' as they are in Muslim extremists, Islamic terrorism and all that.
In July 2006, Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (who was himself a target of MI5 surveillance in the 1980's because of his activities as an environmental protester) accused the government of "hoarding information about people who pose no danger to this country", after it emerged that MI5 holds secret files on 272,000 individuals - equivalent to one in 160 adults. In a Parliamentary Answers, it was revealed that 10% of those files were active, or coded Green. 46% were coded Orange, for which inquiries are prohibited but further information may be added, while 44% were coded Red, where inquiries are prohibited and no substantial information may be added. So, it follows that one in every 1,600 people pose a 'real threat to the country' - 27,200 terrorists and criminals! Back in July 1998, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw revealed in Parliament that, in 1972, MI5 had an estimated 535,000 files on individuals and organisations. From mid 1992 to mid 1998, 110,000 were allegedly earmarked for destruction (for more details, see this Indymedia feature).
Needless to say, the Terrorism Act, particularly Section 44 (Power to stop and search), has been repeatedly abused by cops and used against protesters and activists to stop or deter them from going about their once-legal business (see here, for example).
My other theory is that the Special Branch, dubbed sometimes as the "political police" and whom I used to get at airports, are not coping with the amount of work they are being asked to do. And that's why I got a normal cop this time (that's what I think anyway).
In 2003, StateWatch published a special report on the role of Special Branch in conducting surveillance operations for MI5. It revealed that the number of police Special Branch officers had more than doubled, from 1,638 in 1978 to 4,247 in 2002. In addition, it now has far more civilian staff and means for mass surveillance of telecommunications and the payment of informers, which it never had in those days. But still, they probably need an open recruitment campaign, similar to what the MI6 did last year: a website and a P.O. Box where people can apply for jobs as.. err, Special Branch officers.
Therefore it is the tories who are to blame for initially removing this right, although Labour have further eroded the climate which was more open minded towards it.
re Rogue's comment on the right to silence, while the right was eroded in 1994 by making it possible for courts to make 'adverse inference' on a failure to give police an explanation of conduct, it is subsequent terrorist legislation which has actually made it an offence to withhold information.
As an example, Sabeel Ahmed was sentenced to 18 months in prison and deported because he failed to tell police about an e-mail he received from his brother (glasgow car bomber), an e-mail, incidentally, which he received only after the attack had taken place. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7342379.stm
It's all nasty stuff. But resistance is of more use than paranoia.