Last August, British authorities at London Heathrow Airport detained David Miranda. Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who has been reporting on the information leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Miranda had carried documents from Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with Greenwald, to journalist Lauren Poitras in Berlin. He was detained for nine hours on his return trip, and was found to be carrying documents on encrypted USB sticks. Under the Terrorism Act of 2000, nine hours is the longest that someone can be detained.
Today, a British court ruled that Miranda’s detention was legal despite the fact it noted that the detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom.”
Writing at The Intercept, Greenwald points out that the British government argued that reporting on the information leaked by Snowden was “tantamount to ‘terrorism,’” and that the U.K. has a far from laudable record when it comes to press freedom:
It should surprise nobody that the UK is not merely included in, but is one of the leaders of, this group of nations which regularly wages war on basic press freedoms. In the 1970s, British journalist Duncan Campbell was criminally prosecuted for the crime of reporting on the mere existence of the GCHQ, while fellow journalist Mark Hosenball, now of Reuters, was forced to leave the country. The monarchy has no constitutional guarantee of a free press. The UK government routinely threatens newspapers with all sorts of sanctions for national security reporting it dislikes. Its Official Secrets Act makes it incredibly easy to prosecute journalists and others for disclosing anything which political officials want to keep secret. For that reason, it was able to force the Guardian to destroy its own computers containing Snowden material precisely because the paper’s editors knew that British courts would slavishly defer to any requests made by the GCHQ to shut down the paper’s reporting.
Greenwald then goes on to rightly point out that the British government is trying to halt reporting on the NSA and GCHQ’s mass surveillance not because of national security concerns, but because the reporting is prompting a debate that British officials would rather not have:
In sum, the UK Government wants to stop disclosure of its mass surveillance activities not because it fears terrorism or harm to national security but because it fears public debate, legal challenges and accountability. That is why the UK government considers this journalism to be “terrorism”: because it undermines the interests and power of British political officials, not the safety of the citizenry. I’ve spent years arguing that the word “terrorism” in the hands of western governments has been deprived of all consistent meaning other than “that which challenges our interests”, and I never imagined that we would be gifted with such a perfectly compelling example of this proposition.
Greenwald writes that Miranda plans to appeal the British court’s ruling.
Read J.D. Tuccille’s blog post “Is Embarrassing the Government Terrorism? British Politicians Think So.” here.