UK officials detain Glenn Greenwald's partner at Heathrow, question him about Snowden interviews, steal all his gadgets & data

Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport under an anti-terrorism law that allows the cops to hold terrorism suspects and question them for nine hours without a lawyer. He was held for exactly nine hours, and questioned -- but not about terrorism. Instead, they questioned him about Greenwald's interviews with NSA leaker Edward Snowden. In other words, they misused a terrorism law to attack a journalist through his loved ones in order to get information on sources in a story that embarrassed the government.

What's more, they stole his laptop, his phone, his memory sticks, his game devices -- basically, all his electronics and gadgets. I say "stole" because there's no indication that they'll ever be returned. And of course, all the data on those devices is forfeit to the UK spookocracy, without any charge, suspicion, or colourable claim of involvement with any crime.

According to a document published by the UK government about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, "fewer than 3 people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK borders" (David was not entering the UK but only transiting through to Rio). Moreover, "most examinations, over 97%, last under an hour." An appendix to that document states that only .06% of all people detained are kept for more than 6 hours.

The stated purpose of this law, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism. The detention power, claims the UK government, is used "to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."

But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop "the terrorists", and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.

Worse, they kept David detained right up until the last minute: for the full 9 hours, something they very rarely do. Only at the last minute did they finally release him. We spent all day - as every hour passed - worried that he would be arrested and charged under a terrorism statute. This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ.

Detaining my partner: a failed attempt at intimidation [Glenn Greenwald/The Guardian]

(Image: Heathrow Terminal 5, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from eguidetravel's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. Bloo says:

    Dear people in the UK: the last time the British government treated its citizens this way, they held a revolution, and a large number of them became a new free country. Not fomenting anything, just sayin'....

  2. David Miranda should in future travel with a collection of punch cards, paper tape, core memory, RL02 disks, Files-11 formatted shadow sets on SCSI-1 disks, Zip disks and Zune music players, all loaded with random numbers displaying exquisitely high entropy.

    I would love to see the authorities make an image of that lot in 9.0 hours.

  3. This detention is an utter disgrace and a shame on my country. If the Terrorism Act is being used to target journalists and people who clearly have no terrorist intent, then it must be struck off the statute book. This alarming newspeak interpretation of 'terrorist' as anyone who's inconvenient undermines the legitimacy of the rule of law.

    I have written to my MP to ask him to take action about this, and I hope all UK-based BB readers are doing the same thing.

  4. ookboo says:

    They know it won't slow down Greenwald, but there are thousands of people reading this and making the decision that it isn't worth it to get involved in any kind of activism in the future, because they don't want their wives/children on watch-lists that possibly affect careers or university admissions in the future. This is the effect they wanted.

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