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UK police use terror laws to seize laptop of journalist reporting on IS

The BBC said it will not obstruct police investigations but criticised the seizure of a journalist's laptop as making reporting 'very difficult'
A photo of Secunder Kermani while appearing on the BBC show Newsnight (Twitter)

British police have seized the laptop of a BBC journalist in touch with Islamic State group miliants, by obtaining a court order through using terrorism legislation.

The Independent reported on Thursday that police secured a court order against the BBC and their journalist Secunder Kermani to take the laptop.

Kermani joined flagship BBC programme Newsnight last year. He has produced a series of reports on foreign fighters in Syria, including an interview with an Australian IS member who later became a suicide bomber.

The police made the court application to gain access to communication between Kermani and a member of IS. The Independent did not report when the seizure took place, but it is understood to have happened earlier this year.

A BBC spokesperson said the IS member had appeared in Newsnight reports and was not a confidential source.

Newsnight editor Ian Katz said the move will make it more difficult for journalists to report on IS and foreign fighters.

“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,” he told the Independent.

Media lawyers have previously criticised the Terrorism Act, which was passed in 2000, for giving police far-reaching powers. Gavin Millar QC told a conference in September that the definition of terrorism in the act is “very wide”.

“It can include action to advance a religious cause amongst other things, and to influence the government or intimidate the public,” he said.

Millar said that journalists who communicate with people fighting in Syria cannot report freely on an issue of public interest because they cannot guarantee anonymity to their sources.

Campaigners condemned the police seizure of a journalist’s laptop as typifying the “hysteria” around terrorism in the UK.

“If journalists go near something to do with terrorism the police can use the Terrorism Act to go after their sources,” Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, told the Independent.