The Guardian reports that David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was held at Heathrow all day today under schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Miranda was held for the longest time allowable, nine hours, and released without charge and also without all his consumer electronics.
It’s hard to believe that the UK authorities sincerely believe Miranda, who was transiting through Heathrow, is a bona fide terrorism threat. Greenwald, the journalist who broke the Edward Snowden story, has interpreted his partner’s detention as an act of intimidation or retaliation. It may also be a simple fishing expedition to seize information about third parties such as the documentary-maker Miranda had traveled to Berlin to meet. What, if any, connection these journalists may have to terrorism remains to be seen.
I remember quite vividly when the 2000 Terrorism Act was passed. Although it pre-dated post-September 11 power grabs such as the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, the 2000 legislation was criticised for being loosely drafted and open to the unaccountable abuse of state power. Section 7 is for use only in ports, airports and similar transit zones, and the authorities do not need to have any reasonable suspicion of wrong-doing to invoke it. Those detained have no recourse to legal representation but their refusal to answer questions can be prosecuted as an offense. This law drives a coach and horses through an individual’s right not to be arbitrarily detained or have their belongings confiscated, and the right – conditional in the UK in any case – to silence.
At the time it was passed, the Home Office made the usual airy claims that the Terrorism Act would not be abused. And at the time, campaigners insisted that these claims were not worth the paper they were not written on. The Act itself doesn’t require the government to give any justification for today’s detention, but if the UK border authorities want to clear their name of abuse of state power against individuals a foreign government, the United States, is angry with, they should speak up now.