The police detention for nine hours of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian newspaper journalist Glenn Greenwald, at London’s Heathrow Airport under British anti-terrorism laws on Sunday is continuing to cause controversy.
The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, said Miranda’s detention showed press freedom was under threat in Britain.
British opposition politicians, human rights lawyers and press freedom watchdogs have also been denouncing it.
Rusbridger revealed that he had recently received demands from top UK government officials to hand over or destroy the material the Guardian has been given by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, information which formed the basis of Greenwald’s recent reports.
Rusbridger said a government official told him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” The paper had been threatened with legal action if it did not comply.
Rusbridger called it a “pointless” move that would not prevent further reporting on US and British surveillance programmes.
Responding to the Miranda incident, David Anderson, Britain’s official independent reviewer of terrorism legislation asked: “Why was it that they wanted to question him?” He added that “the police are only allowed to ask questions aimed at determining whether somebody is a terrorist. Is that what they thought and if so on what basis?”
In his first interview since arriving back in Brazil, Miranda told how the British authorities said he would be “put in jail” if he did not cooperate by handing over the passwords to his computer and mobile phone, which were confiscated along with USB keys and other electronic equipment.
The United States government had also been informed of the detention.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the British government made “a decision based on British law, on British soil, about a British law enforcement action”. He confirmed that “they gave us a heads up and this is something they did not do at our direction and it’s not something we were involved with. This is something they did on their own”.
Britain’s authorities said that the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain David Miranda for nine hours was “legally and procedurally sound”. The Metropolitan Police Service claimed that the examination was “necessary and proportionate”.
Legal action over seized data
David Miranda has begun legal action to stop the British authorities inspecting data they seized from him, his lawyer said.
Miranda’s lawyer Gwendolen Morgan said her client was seeking a judicial review of the legal basis for his detention and wanted assurances from the authorities that property taken from him would not be examined before this.
“We’ve sought undertakings that there will be no inspection, copying, disclosure, transfer or interference in any other way with our client’s data pending determination of his judicial review,” Morgan said. “We’re waiting to hear back this afternoon from both the defendants. Failing that we will be left with no option but to issue urgent proceedings in the High Court tomorrow.”
She said the “letter before action” had been sent to London’s police chief and the Home Secretary. It also demanded that they detail whether Miranda’s data had already been passed on to anyone else, and if so, who that was and why.