For civil libertarians in the United States and England, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the practices of our own governments and the countries that we routinely denounce as authoritarian. An example of this confusion can be found in the outrageous arrest of the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who brought the Snowden disclosures to light and a leading voice for civil liberties in the world. David Miranda, who lives with Greenwald, was taken into custody when passing through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro. He was held for nine hours and had his computer, cell phone and other equipment seized. Such stops can occur at the request of the National Security Agency and other agencies and are carried out under the abusive Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The case could also highlight possible surveillance of journalists in England and the United States.
The law allows police at airports, ports and border areas to stop, search, question and detain individuals for up to nine hours. Miranda, 28, was held obviously because he is the partner of Greenwald. Where 97% of people held under the law are held for less than an hour, they held Miranda for the full nine hours and confiscated his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
Miranda was reportedly in Berlin to deliver Snowden related documents and to pass other documents from Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, back to Greenwald. The use of a loved one for such a function is obviously dangerous and most journalists avoid such involvement since the partner would not necessarily be protected as journalists. The documents were stored on encrypted thumb drives. Greenwald says that the police informed him of an intent to arrest Miranda.
Notably, one defense might have been that Miranda was acting in a journalistic activity as a courier for Greenwald but Greenwald is quoted as saying that Miranda is not a journalist. The use of a loved one for such a job would create a dangerous ambiguity. However, it is also clear that the government is targeting a journalist and trying to obtain records of a journalist. Given the history of the Obama Administration in putting reporters under surveillance, there is a reasonable basis to suspect that wiretaps or other forms of surveillance have targeted Greenwald. How did they know to search the partner of Greenwald? I am surprised to see a non-journalist tasked with such a job if these accounts are true. However, these questions still remain as to whether the U.S. government is working with England to target journalistic records.
England has fewer protections for journalists, particularly under its controversial Crown laws. However, even the United States uses enhanced powers at borders and airports. The Supreme Court has adopted different rules governing such stops. The Metropolitan Police released a statement that “[h]olding and properly using intelligence gained from such stops is a key part of fighting crime, pursuing offenders and protecting the public.” The crime in this case would involve disclosures made by someone viewed as a whistleblower to a journalist. Many view Greenwald as protecting the public in performing his journalistic role. Even if Miranda was not viewed as a journalist as Greenwald appears to confirm, he would be viewed as a courier for a known journalist. Such couriers however are usually employees or contractors associated with the media. That difference may have encouraged this action by intelligence officials.
Most people are assuming the English were carrying out the demands of the NSA. Part of the motivation may be the search of the computer records and devices though the length of time has been denounced as harassment. Some members of Congress have called for Greenwald’s arrest. He is responsible for embarrassing a growing number of politicians, including President Obama and leading Democrats, who continue to be caught in false or misleading statements to the public. Unable to convince the public to simply embrace warrantless surveillance and demonize Snowden, the government appears to have adopted a scorched earth policy.
To add to the abuse, Miranda was denied a lawyer as authorities rifled through his computer files and belongings. Greenwald got the message: “[It] is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.” It certainly does, in my view, constitute an attack on the free press and raises the image of virtual hostage taking by the government.
The only thing missing is a few Guy Fawkes masks, “Finger” police, and the smiling face of Minister Peter Creedy to make the scene complete. “Schedule 7” even sounds like something that only Alan Moore could come up with.
What is most striking about Schedule 7 is how it is virtually without any standard or check on authority:
1(1)In this Schedule “examining officer” means any of the following—
(b)an immigration officer, and
(c)a customs officer who is designated for the purpose of this Schedule by the Secretary of State and the Commissioners of Customs and Excise.
(2)In this Schedule—
“the border area” has the meaning given by paragraph 4,
“captain” means master of a ship or commander of an aircraft,
“port” includes an airport and a hoverport,
“ship” includes a hovercraft, and
“vehicle” includes a train.
(3)A place shall be treated as a port for the purposes of this Schedule in relation to a person if an examining officer believes that the person—
(a)has gone there for the purpose of embarking on a ship or aircraft, or
(b)has arrived there on disembarking from a ship or aircraft.
Power to stop, question and detain
2(1)An examining officer may question a person to whom this paragraph applies for the purpose of determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b).
(2)This paragraph applies to a person if—
(a)he is at a port or in the border area, and
(b)the examining officer believes that the person’s presence at the port or in the area is connected with his entering or leaving Great Britain or Northern Ireland [or his travelling by air within Great Britain or within Northern Ireland].
(3)This paragraph also applies to a person on a ship or aircraft which has arrived at any place in Great Britain or Northern Ireland (whether from within or outside Great Britain or Northern Ireland).
(4)An examining officer may exercise his powers under this paragraph whether or not he has grounds for suspecting that a person falls within section 40(1)(b).
My favorite part is the last line: “An examining officer may exercise his powers under this paragraph whether or not he has grounds for suspecting that a person falls within section 40(1)(b).”
The actions taken against Miranda were intended to send a message to Greenwald and other journalists that their families will not be protected from repercussions in such controversies. Indeed, the crude tactics conveyed a menacing message that the government is not concerned with public outcry or any notion of checks on its actions. You will note that no one in Congress has demanded to know if American officials were involved in this abusive action. Scotland Yard refused to answer any questions beyond confirmed that Miranda was held in custody. The message to citizens seems clear: Challenge the government at your own peril . . . and that of your loved ones.