Scotland Yard has said in a statement that their nine-hour detention of David Miranda, the boyfriend on Glenn Greenwald, was legally sound under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, but was it a misuse or abuse of powers?
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, brought in surprisingly before the 09/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, gives police and security services sweeping powers, one amongst them is the power to detain individuals at border areas and ports, including airports.
Rather than needing to show legitimate belief that an individual is conspiring to commit a terrorist act, the Act provides for detention to be legal simply “to determine whether he appears to be [someone who]is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. The security forces are as such empowered to detain someone to decide whether they should be suspicious that the individual may be connected to terrorism – a particularly broad definition.
The definition of terrorism is also very broad within the Act, with a person committing terrorism if they are creating “a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public” or committing an action that “is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system” designed to “influence the government”.
It is not difficult, therefore, for the security services to argue that as Miranda was working with Greenwald on leaking the Snowden files, that releasing the information was a risk to public safety as it describes how spies covertly watch people. The publication of this data in the Guardian is also designed to influence public opinion and government policy – again falling within the Act’s broad definitions.
Scotland Yard, therefore, certainly appear to be working within the parameters of the law in detaining Miranda, but the question that should be raised is on the value of the law itself. The security services need the power to act upon real threats of terrorism, but the Terrorism Act 2000 gives such wide definitions that they can be used to detain anyone who disagrees with government policy and pushes for reform through peaceful means such as editorials. The Act has always been a threat to journalism, but it has taken 13 years before a case arose in which the security services and the press has pitted the security services against the press.
This detention of Miranda was not a abuse of the Act, but the Act itself is misuse of power, and an example of legislation pushed through by fear and not an understanding of the rights and freedoms it curtails. We have needed a discussion over such policies in this country for decades, and with this story now making headlines around the world now is the time.