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David Miranda & the Policing of Journalism

David Miranda (left) and Glenn Greenwald (right) | Creative Commons-licensed photo by Agencia Senado

Lawyers for David Miranda, the husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been reporting on documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was in Britain’s High Court for the second day of a hearing.

Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport on August 18 when he was on his way to Rio de Janeiro from Berlin. He was held under a terrorism law for the maximum period one can be held without charge and authorities seized electronics equipment he was carrying including a mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and gaming consoles.

He had been staying with journalist Laura Poitras. Security Services and the Metropolitan Police Service in the United Kingdom hoped they would be able to obtain access to any documents from Snowden that he may have been carrying.

As Carl Gardner, who attended the hearing, has summarized, the lawyers for Miranda argue “the stop was not carried out for the correct legal purpose; that it breached his and others’ freedom of expression; and that Schedule 7 (a provision of Terrorism Act of 2000) is incompatible in principle with that freedom.”

Yesterday, I wrote about the police’s statements in defense of detaining Miranda as if he were committing terrorism by carrying documents. They apparently believed he might have been part of a “conspiracy” involving Snowden and others to disclose highly sensitive material. They also thought that past and future disclosures by “Edward Snowden and/or his associates might constitute acts of terrorism” under TACT.

Oliver Robbins, the deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience at the Cabinet Office, according to David Barrett of the Telegraph, declared that not only would Snowden’s disclosures make it easier for “terrorists to evade detection” and help “hostile foreign states identify” intelligence officers and “take steps against them” but they would also make it easier for “pedophiles to cover their tracks online.”

Viewing the security services, police and government’s arguments in total, one would think that David Miranda was a terrorist engaged in a conspiracy with Snowden and others to aid the UK’s enemies. He played a role in ensuring there will be more terrorist attacks and pedophiles on the loose. (There may even be terrorist pedophiles or pedophiles who engage in terrorism, who go undetected.)

It is fear-mongering on a lunatic scale, and what the Security Services, police and government have conspired to do in response to journalism on the surveillance apparatuses of the United States and UK, which Snowden has made possible, is clampdown on journalism and target freedom of expression. They have publicly mounted a campaign that runs counter to values that are to be held in open and free societies.

Incredibly, the police do not seem to be able to keep their story straight. Either they thought Miranda was carrying documents for a journalistic purpose or they do not. The police claimed yesterday they “did not know or believe that Mr. Miranda had acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.” They also claimed, “Mr. Miranda did not when questioned claim to be a journalist or to be carrying the material on behalf of anyone else who was a journalist or to have acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.” So, this would partially excuse treating Miranda like a terrorist.

But today in court, according to Owen Bowcott of The Guardian, “Jason Beer QC, for the Metropolitan police, said officers wanted to know how the encrypted material was arranged: whether it was split into material that was be disclosed and material that would not be published. ‘[They] may have [been considering] to do as [Julian] Assange has done and upload all the material on to a blog,’ he suggested. ‘It was a legitimate concern to see whether the material was arranged in that way.'”

This seems contradictory. If the police wanted to be able to see what journalists had planned, that would suggest that they thought Miranda was assisting journalists. That is a journalistic activity. But, of course, this is all purely evasive. The police were going to suppress the dissemination of this information by targeting and detaining Miranda under whatever pretext they could develop. (Lawyers even admitted in court that police had received a request from the security services to make the stop seem as routine as possible.)

Stephen Kovats, the lawyer representing UK’s Home Office, which handles immigration and border control, declared, “You are putting lives in danger [carrying the material] if there’s a risk that a member of al-Qaida will relieve Mr Miranda of his hard drive and then use it for … malevolent purposes. We would say that for the purposes of schedule 7 that [makes Miranda] a person of concern.”

Kovats’ statement represents another argument with authoritarian implications. It puts the freedom of movement of any national security journalist or assistants of national security journalists at risk. It means the Security Services or police will decide whether a journalist might have research or documents that, if in the hands of terrorists, would benefit them. And if they can determine such information would be of benefit, something that will never be difficult to argue, they can justify detaining a journalist and seizing property.

All of which indicates what the British government desires—and in some cases seeks to expand—is unlimited power to police journalism. Investigative journalism is not compatible with the surveillance state the government wishes to maintain in partnership with the US government. It must chill, deter, intimidate and isolate those reporters who dare to expose the truth of what they do and expose them to scrutiny from citizens.

Article 19, a charity dedicated to the global protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression, declared in a brief to Britain’s High Court, “The significance of a chilling effect lies in its capacity to discourage potential future journalistic sources from providing information in the public interest.”

The organization argued Miranda should be protected, even though he is not a journalist:

The UN Special Rapporteur has noted that persons not formally employed as journalists should ‘benefit from the same safeguards as all journalists, since a person’s status as a journalist is determined by the work that he or she performs and is not subject to any job title or form of registration.’

The UN Human Rights Committee has further observed that ‘[j]ournalism is a function shared by a wide range of actors, including professional full-time reporters and analysts, as well as bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the internet and elsewhere.’

The principle that persons associated with journalists are due the same standard of treatment and rights protections has also been explicitly endorsed by the UN Security Council. Security Council Resolution 1738, relating to the protection of journalists in situations of armed conflict, expressed its objects in broad terms as ‘journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.’

The terrorism law at issue in this case seems to have such a broad definition that the government may detain just about anyone engaged in any political organizing against the UK government. It was highly controversial in the UK before Miranda was detained, and Miranda’s case has only brought it more significant attention.

Whether the terrorism law is reformed or not, the success of this lawsuit is truly critical. If it fails, the UK has carved out a new power under the law to disrupt reporting on stories of great importance, such as ones on war, torture, spying, etc—stories which strike at the core of powerful institutions which have far too much control over society.

Finally, the United States, by its complicity or covert participation in detaining Miranda, has enabled a potential precedent that will send a message to other authoritarian governments in countries like Ethiopia, Morocco or Turkey that it is acceptable to use anti-terrorism laws for the purpose of suppressing journalists.

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David Miranda & the Policing of Journalism

David Miranda (left) and Glenn Greenwald (right)

Lawyers for David Miranda, the husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been reporting on documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was in Britain’s High Court for the second day of a hearing.

Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport on August 18 when he was on his way to Rio de Janeiro from Berlin. He was held under a terrorism law for the maximum period one can be held without charge and authorities seized electronics equipment he was carrying including a mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and gaming consoles.

He had been staying with journalist Laura Poitras. Security Services and the Metropolitan Police Service in the United Kingdom hoped they would be able to obtain access to any documents from Snowden that he may have been carrying.

As Carl Gardner, who attended the hearing, has summarized, the lawyers for Miranda argue “the stop was not carried out for the correct legal purpose; that it breached his and others’ freedom of expression; and that Schedule 7 (a provision of Terrorism Act of 2000) is incompatible in principle with that freedom.”

Yesterday, I wrote about the police’s statements in defense of detaining Miranda as if he were committing terrorism by carrying documents. They apparently believed he might have been part of a “conspiracy” involving Snowden and others to disclose highly sensitive material. They also thought that past and future disclosures by “Edward Snowden and/or his associates might constitute acts of terrorism” under TACT.

Oliver Robbins, the deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience at the Cabinet Office, according to David Barrett of the Telegraph, declared that not only would Snowden’s disclosures make it easier for “terrorists to evade detection” and help “hostile foreign states identify” intelligence officers and “take steps against them” but they would also make it easier for “pedophiles to cover their tracks online.”

Viewing the security services, police and government’s arguments in total, one would think that David Miranda was a terrorist engaged in a conspiracy with Snowden and others to aid the UK’s enemies. He played a role in ensuring there will be more terrorist attacks and pedophiles on the loose. (There may even be terrorist pedophiles or pedophiles who engage in terrorism, who go undetected.)

It is fear-mongering on a lunatic scale, and what the Security Services, police and government have conspired to do in response to journalism on the surveillance apparatuses of the United States and UK, which Snowden has made possible, is clampdown on journalism and target freedom of expression. They have publicly mounted a campaign that runs counter to values that are to be held in open and free societies.

Incredibly, the police do not seem to be able to keep their story straight. Either they thought Miranda was carrying documents for a journalistic purpose or they do not. The police claimed yesterday they “did not know or believe that Mr. Miranda had acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.” They also claimed, “Mr. Miranda did not when questioned claim to be a journalist or to be carrying the material on behalf of anyone else who was a journalist or to have acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.” So, this would partially excuse treating Miranda like a terrorist. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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