If a British journalist was working to expose Government
corruption in a foreign country and their partner was detained – under
anti-terror laws or not – then I expect the British Government’s response would
not be the muted silence we have heard this morning.
Instead, it is our own authorities who detained and
questioned David Miranda, partner of The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, under
anti-terror laws. This was not a random stop and search. Only 0.06 per cent of all
people detained under Schdeule Seven are detained for more than six hours. Miranda
was held right up to the maximum nine hours. According to the Government,
"fewer than three people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK
From Greenwald’s article today, we also have an idea
of what was discussed while Miranda was detained (without any legal or consular
representation – you’re not entitled to either under Schedule 7). Miranda
was not questioned about his involvement in terrorism, or how he posed a threat
to the UK. He was asked about the NSA stories his partner had been writing and
what information was contained on the various electronic devices he was
Whether you agree with Edward Snowden’s motives or
Greenwald’s journalism or not, I think we can all agree that this is a case of
anti-terror laws being used in a situation where there is quite clearly no
suggestion anyone involved is a terrorist.
Indeed, the Terrorism Act does offer a definition of what is
terrorist activity, from action involving "serious violence against a person [and] serious damage to property" or that "endangers a person’s life, creates a serious risk to the health or
safety of the public or a section of the public, or is designed seriously to
interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system".
Whoever authorised this detention should urgently be made to
explain under which of these areas Miranda posed a threat to the safety and
security of the UK and why it was necessary to detain him for nine hours. Of
course, another of the features of Schedule Seven is that it does not require any
suspicion, so it may be that they just needed nine hours to confirm that they
did not have any suspicions. Who knows?
This Government has already curtailed some of the worst
excesses of the Blairite security apparatus, but this incident highlights how
there is still much that could be done. This kind of abuse is not new – 82 year
old Walter Wolfgang was refused re-entry to the Labour Conference in 2005 under
the same legislation as that used to detain Miranda.
It is remarkable to think that in a democratic country you
can be detained without suspicion and without access to legal representation,
while also having all your possessions seized indefinitely, but such is the
reality of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Perhaps it is reassuring, given the incompetence expected of
what used to be UKBA, that in such a ham-fisted attempt at intimidation they
have aptly made Edward Snowden’s point in plain sight. Yes, we have anti-terror
laws and we’re not afraid to use them on people who are by no stretch of the
The Government is already examining proposals to reduce the
maximum time period of detention and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism
legislation has expressed concern about the powers to seize possessions
indefinitely. However, if this episode highlights anything it is that tinkering
at the edges are not enough – we need a comprehensive overhaul of our
anti-terror laws and nothing less.