The partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald — who has written a series of scathing articles about the NSA – was questioned and held at London’s Heathrow airport for nine hours under the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act.
Greenwald, who writes for The Guardian, garnered international headlines after interviewing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The writer’s partner, David Miranda, was questioned by security agents at the airport. His cell phone, laptop, flash drives and camera all were confiscated, too. Airport security agents have not informed Miranda of any timeline for the return of the confiscated electronics, according to The Guardian.
“This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process,” Greenwald said. “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and the GCHQ [Britain’s version of the NSA]. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere. But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary, it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively.”
Miranda, a Brazil citizen, was initially detained by airport security at 8:30 am local time. He was told that his questioning was being conducted under schedule seven of the Terrorism Act of 2000. The law allows law enforcement agents to hold individuals in “key transportation areas.”
Greenwald’s partner was ultimately released without being charged with any crime – although his possessions were detained. Civil libertarians argue that while national security should remain a top priority in both America and the United Kingdom, such statutes as the Terrorism Act should not be used in a retaliatory manner against those who dare to speak out against the government, or infringe upon the freedoms of citizens without just cause.
Miranda lives with Greenwald and was returning to the United Kingdom after a trip to Berlin. According to Terrorist Act statistics published in The Guardian, more than 97 percent of similar stops involve detaining a traveling individual for less than a single hour. Approximately one in every 2,000 travelers are stopped and held form more than six hours.
“They obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot,” Greenwald wrote on the newspaper’s website. “Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, The Guardian and I are doing, as well as the content of the electronic products he was carrying. This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by.”
Beginning in early June, Greenwald wrote a series of articles pertaining to the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs. Snowden reportedly shared “thousands” of NSA files with the journalist. In addition to the articles about the electronic surveillance of everyday citizens, the Guardian also published reports about Britain’s GCHQ surveillance activities, also based on information shared by Snowden.
When Miranda was in Berlin, he visited Poitras, an American filmmaker. She has also been working with the Snowden files shared initially with only Greenwald. The newspaper footed the bill for Miranda’s flight. Poitras, who also is employed by the Guardian, has reportedly been detained at airports in the United States more than 40 times. She was allegedly interrogated about her journalistic and documentary film-making work. Poitras also claims that her domestic plane tickets have been tagged with a “SSSS” – Secondary Security Screening Selection designation.
Poitras further alleges that an airport security officer in Vienna, Austria, told her that she had been flagged and that her threat score was “off the Richter scale.” Despite reportedly petitioning Congress under the Freedom of Information Act to garner insight into why she had been put on a watch list, she still has no idea why she is considered a threat to national security.
The Terrorism Act of 2000 as been largely criticized in the United Kingdom, just as “Constitution Free Zones” have been in the United States. In July the government of the United Kingdom reportedly promised to decrease the maximum detention period to six hours and to review schedule seven operations to make sure that minority groups were not unfairly targeted.
The government of Brazil issued a statement, saying, “This measure is without justification since it involves an individual against whom there are no charges that can legitimate the use of that legislation. The Brazilian government expects that incidents such as the one that happened to the Brazilian citizen today are not repeated.”