August 18, 2013

glenn and david
Credit: Photo courtesy of Glenn Greenwald, originally published at The Guardian

Maybe it's just me, but the "trust me" defense of the NSA surveillance that I keep hearing from the president and members of Congress just doesn't have a lot of credibility in the face of outrageous acts like this:

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

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am 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 released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

I don't know Miranda at all, but I have a hard time believe that there was any kind of legitimate suspicion of terrorism about David that would justify his being detained in London for nine hours. Given Greenwald's reporting for the Guardian of Edward Snowden's revelations included blanket surveillance by the British government, it smacks heavily of intimidation of press freedoms.


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.

UPDATE: To be fair, the Terrorism Act under which Miranda was detained is one of those overbroad statutes (written decades ago as a response to IRA violence) that makes what happened completely legal and does not require the detaining officer to suspect a person specifically of terrorism. According to Tom Nichols of The War Room, 60,000 people were detained in the last year under this same statute. The New York Times reports with more detail than the initial Guardian article that the Guardian paid for Miranda's trip to Berlin to meet with a filmmaker who is working on a documentary on Edward Snowden, so it's disingenuous to claim that Miranda is an innocent bystander caught up in the persecution of a journalist either.

UPDATE #2: Jamie Holly remembered this article from June:

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

But caveats aside, I have to say this is EXACTLY the wrong way to go about reassuring citizens that their privacy is being respected and that the government isn't abusing their privileges.

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