This is an abuse of the law

19th August, 2013 9:30 am

I am conflicted over Wikileaks. I can see the virtues of secrecy but also of transparency and would like to hear a more balanced argument about where that line can and should lie than we are presently having as people are forced to their corners. I loathe the messianic Julian Assange. I have also had run-ins with Glen Greenwald (over my dislike of Assange) who I found to be arrogant and aggressive.

But what I am clear on is that Wikileaks, Manning and Snowden are not engaging in terrorism. Whatever other laws they may and may not have broken (a debate that will undoubtedly continue for some time) I think we can all agree on that. There is no plan from these quarters to commit violence or induce fear. Neither is Glen Greenwald’s Partner David Miranda – who was detained under Anti-Terrorism laws for 9 hours and questioned about his and Greenwald’s role in the Snowden revelations.

The anti-terrorism laws were controversial when they were passed and remain so to this day. The idea of detaining anyone, for any period of time, without access to legal representation goes against the principles our justice system is based on. But there are many who believe that in the fight against terrorism that these powers remain necessary when faced with the threat to the UK of those who wish to harm us.

Whether you agree with the Anti-Terrorism laws or not, whether you believe in the rightness of the Wikileaks cause or not, we should all be outraged by this flagrant abuse of this law. In fact, those who support the law should be most outraged at this abuse – as it will undermine its legitimacy if it continues to be widened to include anyone our security services have a beef with, not merely those who directly threaten our safety.

The fight against terrorism is real. It continues and it is the kind of fight where we rarely hear of the successes. But this was not that. This was a massive overstretch of the powers granted to fight terrorism to intimidate someone who it is almost impossible to believe was being detained under suspicion of terrorist activity – as campaigners warned would happen when the law gave police such broad powers. This action strengthens those campaigners case.

Whether or not you agree with this particular law, we should all agree that abusing this or any law to try to intimidate a free press is a scandal that should not be allowed to pass unremarked.




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  • swatnan

    The Rules of Engagement over terrorism must change, its no use fighting Terrorism with antiquated Laws, and our hands tied behind our backs. Its a brutal war and those perpetrators of Terrorism have no qualms at all about killing people mostly their own. Terrorism is Global; it engulfs us all; it wastes a lot of our Human Resources which could be put tobetter use building a better world. Perhaps Bush was right when he talked of ‘a War against Terror’, and we are all involved. I shan’t be losing any sleepless nights over terrorists that have been neutralised and got their just desserts.

  • charles.ward

    “The anti-terrorism laws were controversial when they were passed and remain so to this day.”

    Remind me which party passed these laws.

    I don’t remember Labour making a fuss when Damian Green was arrested by anti-terrorism officers.

    “we should all be outraged by this flagrant abuse of this law”

    Why? If you give the police blanket powers to hold anyone they want without any probable cause just by invoking terrorism then they will inevitably abuse this power.

    We should instead be outraged that they have been given this power in the first place by stupid politicians with no regard for our liberty.

    Labour should say sorry for passing these laws and pledge to reverse them.

    • brianbarder

      I agree that many of these laws amounted to an assault on our basic civil liberties and deeply stained Labour’s record. A succession of illiberal and unprincipled (New) Labour home secretaries have a lot to answer for (and incidentally should now shut up, get off the public stage, and let a new Labour generation get on with the job of cleaning up after them). But there has to be a legal regime that protects genuine state secrets and allows the security services to operate, while preserving basic freedoms and rights and it’s not an easy balance to strike, as Emma’s post rightly says.

      However I don’t agree that Labour should have ‘made a fuss’ when Damian Green was arrested. It was probably a mistake for anti-terrorism officers to make the arrest as distinct from ordinary coppers, but since there was clear evidence that Green was regularly receiving, illegally, classified home office information from a man who amounted to a Conservative mole in the Labour home secretary’s private office, the arrests of both Green and the mole were plainly fully justified. If anyone had been able to produce evidence that Green had actively encouraged the mole to continue to leak secret documents to the Tory Opposition front bench over a longish period, or that the mole had been allowed to think that if he continued his illegal leaking he would be given the job in the Conservative party that he had told the Tories he wanted, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that offences would have been committed that would have involved prison sentences. The arrests were certainly justified and Green’s arrest helpfully reminded us all that parliamentary immunity doesn’t extend to permission to break the law, even within the Palace of Westminster.

      • charles.ward

        So when are the police going to arrest Gordon Brown? He received leaks all the time when he was in opposition.

        • brianbarder

          Did Gordon Brown really receive all his leaks, all uninvited even by implication, from the same mole in the same department over an extended period of years, himself or one of his front bench colleagues having met the leaker face to face and discussed giving him a job, and without taking any action to stop this repeated illegal activity? If so, and if there’s evidence that could be produced in a court of law to support those allegations, then yes, he too should have been arrested — and, in his case — also charged.

        • JohnPReid

          It was encouraging leaked info, that the police were told (wrongly) were against national security, Damian green also encouraged them

      • David Battley

        As a learned man Brian, surely you must see the relative depth of ice underpinning such an argument is dangerously small: if it is acceptable (albeit “probably a mistake”) for anti-terror legislation to be used against someone who has stolen (or at least handled) state secrets and leaked them to a trusted person, who will publish them in the interests of politics, then it must also be acceptable for another situation that can be described exactly the same way.

        Frankly I think both are outside the original intent of the law: that until and unless those state secrets can be used, or may be expected to be used, against the state in direct connection with acts of terror, and so the point stands that Labour should, ideally, have questioned the Green arrest under such legislation.

    • JohnPReid

      Damian green wasnt arrested by anti terrorism drivers ,it was serious crime squad on data protection laws’,

      What makes you think that holding someone for suspicion of terrorism, the police haven’t got probable belief for doing so,

      There’s lots of other reason for holding someone upto 48 hours ,even if they’re not hospitalised or drunk, unwell or need a translated, or have no place to be released too,such as a YMcA

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    From the facts in the public domain, I agree with you that using anti-terror laws in this case seems wrong. But I do not think it was wrong to detain the David Miranda – using appropriate laws – as he passed through the airport.

    The Radio 4 PM programme had a reasonable report, as do some other newspapers. It seems that the strong suspicion was that he (Miranda) was returning to Brazil from Germany on flights paid for by the Guardian where he had met Glenn Greenwald’s journalist collaborator, had with him a computer and several other digital devices, memory sticks and so on, and therefore could reasonably be assumed to be carrying further digital files of new documents and revelations. From the Government’s perspectives, these are secret files, and stolen.

    Whether it is or is not a good idea to publish these files in the media is a separate debate: David Miranda was suspected of being involved in handling stolen property, and in the middle of committing a crime. It seems to me reasonable that he was stopped and the devices removed for examination, but not under anti-terror laws.

    • “not under anti-terror laws.”

      But how would that have been sufficiently intimidating?

      Surely the purpose of such harassment – denying legal representation, holding him for the maximum time allowed and threatening prison if cooperation refused – is to send a warning to others, particularly those in the media, who may consider undertaking similar investigative projects.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I suppose it depends on the intent of whoever decided upon the action. You assume it was to intimidate: I have not enough public information to make that judgement. It may be that the intention was to find out if the David Miranda was carrying further (stolen) digital files and to recover them to prevent publication.

        I know nothing of the world of espionage, so I don’t know how information is transmitted from one place to another. Given that Edward Snowden’s revelations indicate that the NSA and the GCHQ have between them access to most emails, perhaps Greenwald and his collaborator in Berlin thought it safer to use a human carrier? Berlin is not so far from Moscow, where Snowden now is, and memory sticks can go from Moscow to Berlin easily.

        I also imagine that ever since Greenwald first published the files, every known associate of his and indeed the Guardian servers themselves have been comprehensively “hacked” into and are being monitored. I imagine also that the Americans in Rio and Berlin keep a close watch and surveillance on the houses of those involved.

        What could really have been intimidating to Glenn Greenwald would be for David Miranda to have been arrested on suspicion of handling stolen American files, and then extradited to the United States along with his computer. After that, Greenwald might still have files yet to publish from Rio de Janeiro, but the Americans would have his boyfriend and if the computer contained stolen files, life in jail waiting for him.

        But of course, that did not happen. And the whole thing rapidly becomes incomprehensible, to me at least, as there is so little public information, and I am not knowledgeable about how these agencies or indeed the law works.

        But, I do not think it unreasonable that he was temporarily detained and his devices seized on reasonable suspicion. It does seem wrong to me to use anti-terror laws, when other laws also exist.

  • brianbarder

    An excellent and eloquent but completely mistaken re-statement of the Blair fallacy, according to which “the rules of the game have changed” and the threat of terrorist attack is held to justify a wholesale suspension of our fundamental rights and of basic civil liberties, thereby actually fuelling terrorism by feeding a sense of injustice on the part of its victims. Incalculable harm has been done by the pretence that action to prevent, detect and punish terrorism equated to a ‘war’ in which a whole nation’s independent existence was threatened: in fact, it never was and is not now threatened by terrorism and never will be. Terrorism is a matter for the police and the Security Service, not for the army, navy or air force.

  • brianbarder

    Well, it comes down to a subjective judgement, I suppose. If I had known that things I wrote and did as a public servant over many years were going to be deliberately leaked to whichever party was in opposition at the time, for use as party political ammunition against the government for which I worked, I would not have felt able to be as frank as I tried to be in offering advice, warnings and information to ministers, and if other public servants had felt similarly inhibited, the quality of government and thus the public would have been the losers. I recognise the validity of leaks in some situations if they expose wrong-doing by a public authority and if other, lawful steps have been taken first without success to stop and expose it. But I regard leaks for party political purposes as unjustified, harmful, subversive and reprehensible, even if the Labour party (which I support, of course) is the short-term beneficiary.

    I also see a sharp distinction between (a) receiving a single leaked document or bundle of documents from an unknown sender, once, and making use of it; and (b) repeatedly receiving classified documents from the same person, whose identity you know, not to expose wrong-doing but to enable the recipient to use them for party advantage, and doing nothing to stop it.

    I’m pretty sure that you do, too.

    • David Battley

      Hmmm… a somewhat repositioned argument: yes I prefer not to see state secrets being splashed over the front page, and yes I see a qualitative distinction in the severity of the offences you describe.

      However that was not the point I made, which was that I don’t see either of them as “terrorism”, and so from my perspective both amount to an inappropriate application of laws designed specifically to combat that offence.

  • “It does seem wrong to me to use anti-terror laws, when other laws also exist.”

    But to use “other laws” would be to surrender to the banality of process or, to put it another way, would be a surrender to an outmoded normality.

    The War on Terror must be characterised by anomaly or it is nothing. This is why 9/11 cannot be a crime – it has to be an act of war. And this is the rationale behind extraordinary rendition and Gitmo. And the denial of airspace to a presidential jet. This is the approach that motivates complex strategies leading to support for jihadists one country while, at the same time, opposing them in another.
    A new reality has been born requiring the displacement of traditional, cherished values.

    The detention of Miranda was entirely consistent with the new ethos. To play it any other way would, from the point of view of the security services, have indicated hesitation and even weakness.

    • JohnPReid

      If this Ellie’s to Green, then as pointed out this didnt happen, if its relating to Miranda ,why not use anti terror laws

  • Mike Homfray

    I can see no reason to detain David Miranda, under these or any other laws.

    The hysteria about terrorism has led to a quite unacceptable and unnecessary snooping into the affairs of the citizen.

    Its clear that the Coalition are following in the footsteps of new Labour. Both are wrong.

    We need to have investigations into the unacceptable behaviour of the State. Particularly when our State is merely a poodle of another

    • Hugh

      “I can see no reason to detain David Miranda, under these or any other laws.”

      Really? So is it wrong to detain anyone suspected of carrying classified information?

      • Mike Homfray

        Yes. Most of the nonsense that goes on in the name of national security is a total waste of money and time

        • JohnPReid

          Tellme arm chair expert, how many terror plots that have been foiled, that the public can’t get to hear of, because of security reasons are you aware of.

  • BTW – A U.S. security official has admitted intimidation was intended:

    “One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government’s detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden’s materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks.”

  • brianbarder

    I thought the police officers who arrested Green and searched his offices were anti-terrorism officers, which I agree was inappropriate, but that the laws under which they were acting were not confined to dealing with terrorism. But I may be wrong.

    • David Battley

      If not, and I confess to not being certain myself, then I stand corrected.


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