Journalists and their associates have a proud history of making life difficult for the state. David Miranda’s detention is the security service’s latest attempt at fighting back.
It’s a cliche I know, but I’m currently gripped by ‘All the President’s Men’, the book Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published detailing the Watergate investigation.I never went to journalism school, so it seemed event more important than it might otherwise have been to read the painstakingly in-depth account of the risky investigation into the shady activities of President Nixon’s CRP and Whitehouse. Self-education and all that.
In that book, the intimidation put on Woodward, Bernstein, their editors and their sources is quite clear. They were savaged and mocked by government power structures, and constantly feared surveillance and arrest. Sound familiar?
It was worrying to hear of David Miranda’s arrest over the weekend. Miranda, as everyone now knows, is the partner of campaigning legal journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has broken the stories around the NSA files leaked by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.
At first it looked liked they had just detained Miranda as a way of intimidating Greenwald, but now it appears Miranda was picked up, under terrorism legislation, with encrypted thumb drives containing some of the files on him in Heathrow.
Either way, he was hardly stopped for overdoing it on duty free fags and booze.
David Allen Green gives excellent legal analysis of the legal situation. He concludes:
If the questioning, detention, and search of Miranda was for a purpose other than to determine if he was a terrorist, then it was unlawful.
He also highlights how exceptional the length of time Miranda was held for was:
According to the official report on use of terrorism powers, only 0.06% of detainees are held for more than six hours. This is not surprising given the limited scope of the question to be determined. It seems 97.2% of those detained are freed in less than one hour.
For someone to be detained for almost the full nine hours is exceptional. Even the “watchdog” for anti-terrorism legislation has called it “unusual”.
David Miranda was detained from 08:05 until 17:00, five minutes short of the nine hour maximum detailed by the Schedule 7 laws under which he was held. The NSA leaks are exceptional so I can understand that any questioning may take a while, but pushing the time limits of detention seems totally unnecessary and little more than blatant intimidation.
The security forces, not unreasonably, want to stop further stories on PRISM, GCHQ involvement, and state surveillance. However, as Bill Thompson so brilliantly puts it:
Miranda may have been carrying digital copies of secret documents made available to Laura Poitras and his partner Glenn Greenwald, but that does not make him a credible suspect in an investigation into terrorism, except to a paranoid state whose laws have been written to allow the security services unfettered power to detain and investigate anything they consider threatening.
The whole scope of the security services and the state has grown beyond recognition under the guise of ‘counter-terrorism’, and it is now trying to use that to clamp down on legitimate public interest journalism.
For all GCHQ and the NSA know, we are all happy to have them look in our email inboxes so long as we know about it. Or perhaps the realise that PRISM has gone a bit too far and don’t want the whistle being blown any further?