Feb 19, 2014 Comments Off
Last August, former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s parter David Miranda was detained and interrogated for nine hours at Heathrow Airport under the Terrorism Act of 2000 during which time Miranda’s lawyers argue his mobile phone, laptop, DVDs and other items were seized. Today, the Divisional Court of the UK High Court of Justice admitted that Miranda’s detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom,” but held that it was justified and legitimate due to “very pressing” issues of national security.
At the time of his detention, Brazilian national Miranda was transporting secret documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden between two journalists: Laura Poitras in Berlin and Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro. At the time Greenwald worked for The Guardian, but now both are journalists for newly-launched The Intercept.
Reaction to this morning’s ruling by civil liberties and press freedom groups has been widespread and critical.
Antoine Héry of campaign group Reporters Without Borders said:
“Once again, press freedom in the UK suffers from a confusion between journalism and terrorism by the authorities.”
Vincent Peyrègne of the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers said:
“The future of serious public interest journalism in the UK has been dealt a serious blow by the court’s refusal to recognise that journalists also have a vital role in defending democracy.”
Leading civil liberties group Liberty stated in a press release:
“If such a barefaced abuse of power is lawful then the law must change. Miranda’s treatment showed Schedule 7 for what it is: a chillingly over-broad power, routinely misused. People are held and interrogated for hours, their property confiscated while they’re swabbed for saliva – all without any suspicion that they’ve done anything wrong.”
The Guardian newspaper was also critical and said:
“The judgment takes a narrow view of what ‘journalism’ is in the 21st century and a very wide view of the definition of ‘terrorism’. We find that disturbing.”
Members of the UK government, past and present, have also weighed in.
Former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis MP expressed strong criticism:
“This case is yet another example of heavy-handed overuse of terrorism powers that parliament entrusted the agencies with, notably stop and search, retention of DNA and the increasing mass storage of our metadata. We have to question whether these actions of government agencies are actually increasing the security of the British people more than they are undermining our traditional liberties.”
Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat member of the home affairs select committee, suggests the real issues lies with the legislation itself:
“We have already made some changes to the law which are about to take effect, but I think there is still more to do.”
The Metropolitan Police who were responsible for Miranda’s detention, however, have welcomed the decision. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said:
“This was a very important case that has attracted considerable public attention. Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is vital in helping to keep the public safe. We are pleased that the court’s judgment states that “the stop was lawful; it was also on the evidence, a pressing imperative in the interests of national security’.”
Miranda is expected to appeal, but it is not yet known whether his appeal will be allowed. In statement released by The Intercept, Miranda said:
“I will appeal this ruling, and keep appealing until the end, not because I care about what the British government calls me, but because the values of press freedom that are at stake are too important to do anything but fight until the end.”
Beyond the ruling on the legality of Miranda’s detention, the judgement also reveals important insight into the level of surveillance experienced by journalist. Paragraph 9 and 11 of the judgement suggest that the GCHQ (UK version of the NSA) has been actively monitoring communications between Journalists Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda, Eward Snowden, and Laura Poitras.
Miranda’s case is an important test of the UK’s attitude towards journalism in an era of mass surveillance and expansive anti-terrorism legislation. In my view, it strongly undermines freedom of the press protections by allowing journalists who expose whistleblowers’ secrets to be branded as criminals, or even terrorists, themselves. In the balance between National Security and Freedom of the Press, we must never underestimate the importance of information. We must value the profession of journalism and afford them the protections necessary to safely and confidentially carry out their jobs, because a true democracy is an informed democracy.