Where are Miranda’s rights?
Last week at London Heathrow Airport, authorities in the United Kingdom held David Miranda for nine hours. A Brazilian national, Miranda was on his way home to Rio de Janeiro from Berlin. At the end of his detainment, Miranda was released with no criminal charges, but he was also without his laptop and other personal electronic devices.
Why is this a problem? Though everything about his detainment was perfectly legal under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which states that any traveler may be detained at an international port for up to nine hours without legal representation, the problem lies with why Miranda was detained. He wasn’t carrying contraband of any kind and wasn’t in violation of international laws. He was detained for being the partner of Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who released National Security Agency files, given to him by Edward Snowden, that detailed the agency’s extensive domestic and international spying program.
The detainment was made more egregious by the fact that Miranda was held for the entire nine hours. The vast majority of people detained under the Terrorism Act are held for less than an hour, making the U.K. authorities’ decision to hold Miranda a personal attack against Greenwald and The Guardian (the newspaper that broke the NSA scandal story). The U.K. authorities even said as much themselves, explaining that Miranda wasn’t held for a problem in his documentation or any kind of suspicious activity.
I can potentially understand the need to hold a traveler for several hours of time; there may be a relevant terror plot or it may take time to check travel documents in a country halfway around the globe. But by deciding to hold Miranda for the amount of time they did, the U.K. authorities demonstrated a willingness of security officials to attack the family members and loved ones of those who threaten them. Essentially, they will hold loved ones without cause and take their personal belongings in an effort to send a message.
This isn’t a problem solely in the U.K. U.K. officials were without a doubt pressured by American intelligence authorities to hold Miranda and take his belongings. It’s not as though if Miranda were an American citizen he wouldn’t have been held for the same amount of time.
Anyone could be held and essentially robbed for the same reason: simply knowing a person like Greenwald. The policies that allowed Miranda to be detained need to be limited in such a way that this type of personal abuse does not happen. Anti-terrorism laws are supposedly there to protect us, to make sure that dangerous attacks are stopped before their culmination. These laws are not there to be used by the intelligence community to intimidate and harass journalists. They are not there to send a message to an individual.
The next time there is a whistle-blower from the NSA or the CIA, who is to say that you will not be the person detained for knowing someone? Who is to say you will not be held in a room for the maximum legal amount of time, with no recourse other than to sit there before having your belongings taken from you?
Miranda was held as a personal attack against someone the NSA just does not like. Anyone close to someone the NSA doesn’t approve of is in the same position; people can be threatened by virtue of who they are close to. Not because they know anything, not because they did anything wrong, not because they had incorrect documentation or were being suspicious. Just for their personal relationships.
That isn’t the behavior I expect from individuals and organizations that are supposed to be defending me. I don’t want to be protected by a group that uses personal attacks against their enemies’ families. There needs to be clear rules to ensure these abuses stop and that ordinary people are not detained and robbed just for the sake of personal attacks and intimidation. We need a policy that requires a clear reason for detainment, a policy that doesn’t allow someone to have his laptop or personal items taken from him for no reason. A policy that doesn’t have intelligence agencies carrying out personal attacks on journalists’ families in order to silence them.