Inside Story

Is the UK intimidating journalists?

As the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald is questioned by police, we ask if the UK's Terrorism Act is being misused.

Last Modified: 21 Aug 2013 09:16
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Britain's Scotland Yard is on the defensive after the detention and questioning of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian newspaper journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the first stories of NSA surveillance.

Miranda was detained under the country's terrorism act as he transited through London. He was questioned for the full nine hours allowed by law, in what he says was a "total abuse of power".

Meanwhile, the Guardian has since revealed that the government forced it to destroy files collected by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Globally, diplomatic crisis is being caused by the revelations of Mr Edward Snowden. The idea that this is now going to go away, and people are going to forget about the fact that our intelligence agencies seem to have expanded their capabilities beyond anyone's previous wild fantasies, is certainly naive of them, but also incredibly arrogant.

Isabella Sankey, policy director for Liberty,

Alan Rusbridger, the newspaper's editor, says he was contacted by a senior British government official who said he represented the views of the prime minister. Senior officials then oversaw the destruction of the documents.
Rusbridger says the government threatened legal action if the paper refused to comply.

The British government is already under pressure to explain why it detained Greenwald's partner, a move the journalist says was meant to intimidate him.

But, as Rusbridger noted, the destruction of the newspaper's hard drives was not going to make any difference since the information was also stored elsewhere. 

Miranda was held at London's Heathrow airport under Schedule 7 of Britain's Terrorism Act.

According to the code of practice that police officers use, Schedule 7 can only be used for the purpose of determining if someone is involved in the "commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".
Under the law, suspects have no right to remain silent, no right to legal representation, and can have their property confiscated.

"Not one question about terrorism, not one ...," Miranda said after the event. "They asked what my role was in the NSA documents story. I explained I don't have any direct involvement with these documents, I do not work with them."

After widespread criticism, the British government then responded. "The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information ... that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that. Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning," a Home Office spokesman said.

Between 2011 and 2012, British police made nearly 70,000 stops under Schedule 7. They resulted in just 24 terrorism related arrests.

David Anderson, the UK's anti-terrorism watchdog, has noted that the law has "given rise to resentment", particularly in the Muslim community.

So was David Miranda's detention about national security? Or was it meant to intimidate journalists?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, the editor-in-chief of the World Intelligence Review; Isabella Sankey, a human rights specialist and policy director for Liberty; and Padraig Reidy, a news editor at Index on Censorship.

"I think that the Guardian have done a good thing, as have the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, in highlighting the fact that it seems to me that the surveillance agencies ... have been riding roughshod over the legal process. To highlight that is a good thing, but [what] I don't think is right [is to publish] the actual information contained within those stolen documents .... That [information] jeopardises the activity of the intelligence officer and the agency they have recruited and that pretty definitely could have an impact on British security." 

Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, an intelligence analyst 


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