Opinion: Miranda’s detention is latest abuse of draconian legislation

The nine hour detention of the partner of a UK journalist should be troubling for many reasons, but first and foremost because it was done using terrorism legislation.

Alex Chafey is a recent graduate, 2012 Guardian Student Columnist of the Year and writer for film blog screengoblin.wordpress.com.

The nine hour detention of the partner of a UK journalist should be troubling for many reasons, but first and foremost because it was done using terrorism legislation. This confirms the suspicions many have long held that the threat of terror is used as a thin veneer for legislation designed to silence opponents of government policy, in the US and UK alike.

This is certainly true of the two biggest US intelligence leaks in recent years, those of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Manning was charged with “aiding the enemy”, a charge for which he was thankfully acquitted, but the fact the US government tried to prosecute on these grounds is very telling. They are determined to bring the fullest and most heavy handed punishment possible down on whistleblowers that cause embarrassment to the government.

The Obama administration has employed tactics that are completely unprecedented and would probably have been met with widespread outcry had they occurred under President Bush. Since taking office, Obama’s administration has used the 1917 Espionage Act, designed to bring the full force of the law against whistleblowers, seven times, including against Manning and Snowden. In the act’s 88 years before Obama took office it was used only three times. Obama has also prosecuted more whistleblowers than any of his predecessors. This is a man who values secrecy when it benefits his own interests, but not when it’s the private conversations of the public that are at stake. He sees the suppression of potentially embarrassing information as more important than truth and openness, and is prepared to pursue to the ends of the earth anybody who threatens this.

The way successive governments in the US and UK have exploited a climate of fear to impose draconian measures on people is a disgrace. In Labour’s most zealous phase of their war on liberty they tried to shove 90 days terror detention without trial through parliament. This flagship measure thankfully failed. The piece of legislation used to detain David Miranda, partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was the 2000 Terrorism Act. Since its introduction, the act, which gave police a host of new stop-and-search and detention powers, has been used hundreds of thousands of times, including to stop and search children. The detention of Miranda is simply a high profile recent example of a law that has been repeatedly abused for more than a decade. He was detained for the maximum time allowed and had many of his belongings seized, during which time he is said to have been interrogated on the Guardian’s work on the Snowden leaks. This is quite clearly not an investigation into terrorist activity and is made more shocking for having taken place at the hands of British security services.

There’s a sinister irony to people who expose abuses of terror legislation falling victim to said legislation. The Snowden leaks rightfully informed the public about the extent of their government spying on them; something which every American has a right to know. With Miranda’s detention it’s not even the whistleblower himself, but the partner of someone involved in the leak who has been targeted. Cases like this create fear of criticising governments, foreign policy and anti-terror legislation in a way which is dangerous when these issues all require opposition to have sensible debate. They also create fear of appearing to support whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden, particularly when the US government is monitoring communications on such a large scale.

Why does a journalist’s partner have to be arrested for a media storm to happen? The last decade in the UK has seen people being banned from taking photos in train stations, hundreds of thousands of people stopped and searched using terror legislation, protest banned in Parliament Square, unprecedented airport safety measures, increases in profiling, phones and emails tapped and the shooting of an innocent man on the London underground, and these are just the stories that have made it into the public domain. Miranda’s detention looks like the latest in a long string of abuses of draconian legislation used to create a climate of fear and silence opposition, and the latest stride past the point where a line in the sand should long since have been drawn.

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20 Responses to “Opinion: Miranda’s detention is latest abuse of draconian legislation”

  1. Juteman

    Most of this legislation is Labour/UK Democrat.
    Both major parties have the same ideology.
    Why is LFF surprised?

  2. Dessie Deratta

    Shows the stupidity of folk who imagine there is a difference between Con/LibDem/Labour in the UK or Rep/Dem in the US.

    If people are serious about democracy and freedom they must start voting radical. Otherwise don’t bother.

  3. Jacko

    I love these articles. They always seem to be written by some twenty-something kid fresh out of university, who has usually never held a real job, has almost no experience of life, or of people, and yet delights in telling us what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it. Laughable.

    I don’t want to shatter your youthful ebullience mate, but although you may have been a big cheese in the student union bar, putting the world to rights over pints of snakebite and black, out here in the real world you are nobody and your views carry no weight or credibility. Stick to Kevin Bacon films.

  4. David Lindsay

    The David Miranda story brings home the fact that we do have an elected Head of State, it is just that he is elected in America and not in Britain.

    Another remote microstate left over from the Middle Ages and forgotten by the world is in a similar position. In succession to the Kings of France, the President of the French Republic is also a Co-Prince of Andorra.

    The other is the Bishop of Urgell, and there is in fact a very long history of a Prince-Bishop on these shores. The position of Bishop of Durham, for it was he, is currently vacant.

    Let the appointment be made with the provision that the appointee shall enjoy the same powers in the United Kingdom as are enjoyed by the President of the United States.

  5. henrytinsley

    I’m in my fifties and know lots of stupid old people.

  6. Alex Ross

    Patronising tosser: Notice you don’t propose an alternative view – possibly because anyone below the age of 50 wouldn’t be able to comprehend its undoubted sophistication?

  7. JR

    There are two bits to this:

    1 – Is the Government acting within the law in this case (if not, that is scandalous and a judicial review of Miranda’s arrest should be very difficult for the Government)

    2 – If the Government is acting within the law, are people comfortable with what that means?

    The upshot in either event, is the exposure of how few champions of journalistic freedom and human rights there are in our society.

    The shrill protests from Civil Society groups are not good enough. The Labour Party does not have credibility here because they introduced the legislation, the Conservatives are less interested because of their press for law and order and the removal of the human rights act and the Liberal Democrats haven’t been listened to since they wasted their political capital on AV and Student Fees.

    Protecting these things is not a radical idea, but I am stumped as to where a progressive defence can come from.

  8. Jacko

    Oh, the irony of the statement: ‘I notice you don’t propose an alternative view’. And it’s not patronising, it’s condescending. Deliberately so. Your use of the word patronising is incorrect. Secondly, notice how the first thing you do in your post is to use obscene language; there is no such language in mine. Thirdly, I’m not required to post an alternative view, that isn’t what my post is about and is irrelevant to my observation that most of the articles published on this site are by people barley, if at all, out of education.

  9. Alex Ross

    (1) You haven’t proposed a view on the issue at hand which I can engage with so there is no “irony” in the fact that I haven’t responded politically.
    (2) As a consequence, you have failed to demonstrate why the fact that “most of the articles published on this site are by people barley, if at all, out of education” (if that is true??) is relevant to discussion of the content of this post.
    (3) “Tosser” is a relatively mild form of abuse (and one I think that is warranted by your unpleasant post) so please get a life!
    (4) I post under my name with a photograph attached, unlike yourself who just seems to want to abuse people anonymously.
    (5) “Patronising” and “Condescending” are colloquially interchangeable.

  10. Jacko

    1. The subject of my post was clearly about the background of the contributors on the site. You didn’t engage with that subject, but were simply abusive. The irony stands.
    2. The background of the writer is always relevant to the veracity of an article’s views and claims. It’s the same in science, the arts, and politics.
    3. You may consider ‘tosser’ to be relatively mild. I tend to think anyone who uses words like that has a poverty of language and expression. ‘Tosser’ is generally considered vulgar and unpleasant, not a term generally used in educated circles. By contrast, there’s no unpleasant language in my post. It’s merely forthrightly expressed.
    4. I assume by this you believe you have the moral highground because you call people a ‘tosser’ with your real name attached. It’s a dubious distinction.
    5. Yes, they are colloquially interchangeable, but that is not the same as correct grammatical usage. An educated person appreciates this distinction.

  11. Alex Ross

    Right: getting slightly bored of this now. But you still haven’t offered any justification as to (1) and (2).

    How does understanding the background of the writer contribute to the veracity of their claims? Specifically with respect to this article? And with respect to the age of the writer? There is no attempt at a linkage as far as I can see.

    As a general claim, it’s very philosophically problematic. To take some [admittedly very extreme] examples, are we to dismiss the philosophical work of Locke solely on the basis of him profiting from the slave trade? Or the music of Wagner solely on the basis of his racism? Or Webern’s music solely on the basis of his early support for Nazism?

    [And I very much enjoy “vulgar language”…and am soon about to start my second PhD – so think that your distinctions have more to do with snobbery than valuing education]. .

  12. Ste

    Welcome to a world where the superpowers will behave exactly as they choose when left unchecked. And a world where whistleblowers are worse criminals than paedophiles.


  13. Jacko

    You’re doing a second PhD? Are you a student as well, then?

  14. Alex Ross

    Part-time – I study in the evenings and work full time. You really don’t like students?

  15. Jacko

    I don’t like the ones that write articles on here about what’s wrong with the world and how at the age of 20, just two years out of school, they know exactly how to fix it. I find myself wondering if these are the most illustrious and respected contributors LFF really can find. At least let’s have some articles penned by people with serious credentials in the area of which they speak, or even simply important figures in the Left.

    If you go to more recent pages, you will find a bunch of these student articles. They’re never written by physics graduates or mathematics undergrads, they’re always studying something like politics, philosophy, sociology at Sheffield or Lancaster or Cambridge. I just can’t take anything they say seriously. I’m sure they’re very nice people though.

  16. Alex Ross

    Presumably you were 20 at one point in your life (unless you emerged from the womb as a fully formed 50 yr old?). And expressed political opinions at that time?

    As someone who was very much involved with the far left during my undergrad education (back in the mid 90s) where totalitarian ideologies (Trotskyism, Maoism, Guevarism) pretty much predominated, I quite like the more liberal direction that LFF (and others) have taken. Most “important figures in the Left” seem stuck in a time warp!!

    It’s a fundamentally good thing that liberal and pluralist norms seem to have been absorbed by much of the generation below me…as evidenced in much of the writing of people like Laurie Penny and Owen Jones.

    That certainly doesn’t mean that I’m obliged to agree with everything they say (I don’t)…But if I do disagree, I’d rather explicitly explain my reasons for doing so rather than sneer at their age.

  17. bassnation

    Ad hominem attacks are not arguments, son.

  18. bassnation

    You haven’t said a single thing pertaining to the points raised, just a load of diatribes about students – utterly irrelevant. Do you agree or disagree with the article? Hard to tell. Bizarre.

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