Britain’s National Union Of Journalists has come out with a strong statement by their general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, following the detention of David Miranda at London Heathrow in connection with Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on the NSA and GCHQ.
The shocking detention of David Miranda for the crime of being the partner of a respected investigative journalist points to the growing abuse of so-called anti-terror laws in the UK. His detention and treatment was a gross misuse of the law and clearly linked to the work of his partner Glenn Greenwald, who revealed the extent of mass surveillance and wholesale interception of internet traffic by the US security services and its collusion with GCQH. It’s rather ironic that the police’s response, in turn, is to put the partner of a journalist under surveillance and detain him in this way.
Miranda had been used as a go-between by Greenwald and film-maker Laura Poitras, in Berlin, who had been working with him on the information supplied by Edward Snowden. This material has now been confiscated. Journalists no longer feel safe exchanging even encrypted messages by email and now it seems they are not safe when they resort to face-to-face meetings.
This is not an isolated problem. The NUJ believes that journalists are coming under more scrutiny and surveillance, being stopped at borders and their work interfered with, simply for doing their job. We are currently collating examples of such unacceptable interference across our membership. The treatment meted out to David Miranda is wholly unacceptable and it is time the use, or rather misuse, of terrorism legislation as a way of targeting individuals was properly and independently reviewed.
According to The Guardian, the Labour party has called for an investigation into the detention:
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been “misused”, after Miranda was held for nine hours by authorities at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act.
His detention has caused “considerable consternation” and the Home Office must explain how this can be justified as appropriate and proportionate, she said.
And the UK’s official anti-terrorist legislation watchdog, David Anderson QC, has likewise called for an explanation while contradicting the Home Office’s position that “it is for the police to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to use these powers”.
“This is an important power. But the question of whether it was proportionately used in any given case is not ultimately for the police.
“The police, I’m sure, do their best. But at the end of the day there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which can look into the exercise of this power, there are the courts and there is my function. I report to the home secretary and to parliament every year on how this power is being used and whether it is being used properly.”
[David Davis, the Conservative former shadow home secretary] also dismissed the Downing Street position. He said: “This is absolutely not solely an operational matter for the police. This relates directly to press freedom and directly to our adherence to the rule of law. I’m afraid you cannot shove this one under the carpet on the basis of national security.”
He added: “What did ministers know of this? Did they authorise it? Have they returned his computers, have they retained data from those computers and phones? There are a lot of questions to be answered as a matter of urgency.
“The truth is there is too much of a habit in Britain of using terrorism law as a catch-all … The 2000 act was not designed, and certainly not presented as a mechanism for trawling through people’s private information when they passed through Heathrow between two other non-enemy countries.”
More and more Brits feel their government has over-stepped its boundaries in promulgating fear-driven legislation and in ubiquitous surveillance of the populace. This incident will throw further fuel on those profound misgivings.