The British government now thinks it is acceptable to harass members of the press who publish exposés about Edward Snowden, but rather than take them on directly, they are going for their family instead.
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained at Heathrow airport in a Kafkaesque warning to him not to release any more material. Greenwald is sitting on more of Snowden’s leaks which he is currently editing.
His partner, David Miranda, was questioned under the Terrorism Act and locked up for nine hours, which is the maximum the local authorities could get away with without charging him. As Greenwald pointed out, this is a failed attempt at intimidation
Miranda passed through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro after a trip to Berlin. He was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Most examinations under schedule 7 last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
Miranda’s electronics were seized, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
While in Berlin, Miranda visited Laura Poitras, the American film maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian.
Greenwald is understandably furious at what he calls “a profound attack on press freedoms” and the news gathering process.
The Guardian reports he said that, to detain his partner for nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seizing his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ.
He said that the actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.
What the government does not really understand is that intimidating journalists always is counter-productive because it makes journalists want to report aggressively.
The Guardian is urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities as to what the government thought it was playing at. Scotland Yard has confirmed the questioning took place but has refused to say why.
The move is such a blatant attack on western press freedom that it has managed to catch oppositon politicians by surprise.
Labour MP Tom Watson said he was shocked at the news and called for it to be made clear if any ministers were involved in authorising the detention.
Watson pointed out that it was impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald’s partner was a terrorist suspect.
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act has been slammed for giving police broad powers but it has not been used in this way before.
Even the government itself has started to admit that the law is too heavy handed and plans to reduce the maximum period of detention to six hours, as well as conducting a review of the operation on schedule 7.
The move has also angered the Brazilian government which it said it had “grave concerns” over the detention of one of its citizens and the use of anti-terror legislation.
In a statement, it said that the measure is without justification since it involves an individual against whom there are no charges to justify its use.
Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy, said Miranda’s detention was “unlawful and inexcusable”.
“The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass [Greenwald] and his partner, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden,” Brown said.