Britain defends decision to detain reporter’s partner
The British government, accused of abusing media freedom, said on Tuesday that police were right to detain a journalist’s partner if they thought lives might be at risk from data he was carrying from fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Facing legal and diplomatic complaints after police held Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner for nine hours on Sunday — and accused by the newspaper of forcing it to trash computers holding copies of Snowden’s data — the interior minister said officers were entitled to take security measures.
Home Secretary Theresa May said police held David Miranda at a London airport under antiterrorism powers, which allow for action to prevent stolen data to aid terrorists. Material from Snowden, published by The Guardian, has revealed extensive US and British surveillance networks.
“It’s absolutely right that if the police believe that somebody is in possession of highly sensitive, stolen information that could help terrorists, that could risk lives, lead to a potential loss of life, the police are able to act — and that’s what the law enables them to do,” May told the BBC.
As interior minister, May said she was briefed in advance that Miranda might be stopped but added that she did not decide who the police detained. The United States said Britain gave it a “heads-up”, but it did not ask for Miranda to be questioned.
The Guardian had said the British government had forced it to destroy files or face a court battle over its publication of US security secrets leaked by Snowden.
Government to be sued
“David Miranda is taking a civil action over his material and the way that he was treated,” said Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, whose newspaper has worked with Greenwald and Snowden.
A British lawyer who launched an action on Miranda’s behalf to question the legal basis of his detention, said police seized a laptop computer, a telephone, memory sticks, a computer hard drive and a games console from him. He was released without charge after the time limit on such detentions passed.
Miranda had been in transit at Heathrow airport, carrying material from Snowden that was being passed from Berlinbased American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras to Greenwald, an American writer for Britain’s Guardian who lives in Rio de Janeiro.
“These items contain sensitive, confidential journalistic material and should not have been seized,” Miranda’s lawyers wrote in a letter to May and the police.
The leaks by Snowden disclosed details of NSA and British surveillance of public telephone and internet traffic.
In an interview with CNN, Miranda said the officers who questioned him told him he could be jailed if he did not answer everything they asked. Even though he was detained under an anti-terrorism law, he said: “No, they didn’t ask me anything about terrorism — not one question about it.”
US journalist Glenn Greenwald (left) walks with his Brazilian partner David Miranda in Rio de Janeiro’s International Airport on Monday.