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Monday, August 19, 2013

An abuse of process by the UK authorities?

The Guardian reports on the extraordinary events at Heathrow yesterday when for almost nine hours, the UK authorities detained the partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency as he passed through London's Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.

The paper says that David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.30am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals:

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last under an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.

Miranda was then released without charge, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

Greenwald himself has written about the incident here. He says that the stated purpose of the Terrorism Act, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism. He adds that the UK Government claims the detention power is used "to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.":

But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying.

He concludes: Before letting him go, they seized numerous possessions of his, including his laptop, his cellphone, various video game consoles, DVDs, USB sticks, and other materials. They did not say when they would return any of it, or if they would.

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It's bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It's worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world - when they prevent the Bolivian President's plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today - all they do is helpfully underscore why it's so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.

If the facts as set out by the Guardian are correct, this appears to be an unjustified abuse of power and an attack on freedom of expression. The relevant minister should explain the actions of his or her officials.
At least he wasn't shot dead as Menezes was.

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