While most of us were enjoying our weekend, the British authorities spent nine hours detaining and questioning David Miranda, a Brazilian national and the partner of muckraking journalist Glenn Greenwald, who serves as whistleblower Edward Snowden's main point of contact regarding the NSA's wide-scale surveillance apparatuses. British officers ostensibly detained Miranda on terrorism-related charges but in reality spent nine hours questioning him about his involvement with Greenwald's reporting on the NSA and PRISM scandals, in what is clearly a blunt, brutal use of the national security state to intimidate journalists doing their jobs.
Authorities detained Miranda under schedule 7 of Britain's 2000 Terrorism Act during his layover in London's Heathrow airport as he was returning to his home in Rio de Janeiro from Berlin. Under the UK's Terrorism Act, officers have the right to stop, search, detain, and question people at airports, ports, and other border areas. The law is controversial in Britain, as it allows officers to search any individual without reasonable suspicion or authorization. Furthermore, the law denies suspects the right to legal counsel and it stipulates that not cooperating with authorities is a criminal act, violating the British right to silence.
Miranda, of course, is not a terrorist nor is there any reason to suspect that he is implicated in terrorist activity. MP Tom Watson of the Labour Party stated that "it's almost impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald's partner was a terrorist suspect," demanding that any ministers involved in the detention admit their actions.
In fact, Miranda's detention had nothing to do with terrorism and the authorities instead interrogated him about his work and involvement with the Edward Snowden leaks, likely to send a threatening message to his partner Greenwald, the most prominent journalist publishing the NSA leaks. In addition to NSA surveillance programs, Snowden also leaked details of similar surveillance techniques used by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which Greenwald's employer, the Guardian, published.
At the end of the nine-hour interrogation, officers confiscated all of Miranda's electronics, including his phone, laptop, camera, and USB sticks. Miranda had gone to Berlin to visit Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker working with Miranda, Greenwald, and the Guardian, which had paid for Miranda's flights. Thus, not only did the British government attempt to intimidate journalists, it actively inhibited and suppressed their work by illegally seizing it.
Scotland Yard issued a statement acknowledging that they had detained "a 28-year-old man" at Heathrow, failing to disclose Miranda's name and relationship to Greenwald. The statement refused to acknowledge that he was held on account of his work regarding the Snowden leaks and conveniently omitted the fact that they had taken the liberty of confiscating Miranda's work and electronics.
In response to Miranda's detention, Greenwald penned an editorial in the Guardian. He asserted that the incident serves as "a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop 'the terrorists,' and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name."
Historically, as governments expand national security laws, granting themselves more and more power, the national security state generally becomes a method for suppressing government dissent, marketed to the public on the pretext of defending against an external threat. In this case, the British government has effectively and illogically expanded the definition of terrorism to encompass journalists who are doing their jobs by revealing controversial government surveillance programs.
Governments using terrorism as an excuse to crush dissent is one of the oldest tools in the box, even though the degree and extremity varies greatly between countries. In states like Russia, Putin and his allies constantly attempt to use terrorism laws to restrict travel and media in the name of anti-terrorism. On the extreme end of the spectrum, the Egyptian military is currently labeling its Muslim Brotherhood detractors as terrorists, using anti-terrorist emergency laws as a justification to crack down on protests and dissent, arresting thousands and killing hundreds.
Western countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., which purport to stand for freedom and individual liberties, must hold their government accountable for their unnecessarily-expansive surveillance apparatuses and attempts to silence investigative journalists.