Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists

Sarah Harrison, a British journalist who's worked with Wikileaks and the Snowden papers, writes that she will not enter the UK any longer because the nation's overbroad anti-terror laws, combined with the court decision that validates using them to detain journalists who are not suspected of terrorism under any reasonable definition of the term, means that she fears begin detained at the airport and then jailed as a terrorist when she refuses to decrypt her files and grant police access to her online accounts. Under the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, journalists who write because they hope to expose and halt corruption are liable to being jailed as terrorists because they report on leaks in a way that is "designed to influence the government." And "the government," according to the Act, is any government, anywhere in the world — meaning that journalists who report on leaks that embarrass any government in the world can be treated as terrorists in the UK.

Nor is this an idle risk: Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained under terrorism rules when he transited through the UK, and a UK judge subsequently found that the detention was justified on these grounds, even though no one suggests that Miranda is involved in terrorism in any way. As Harrison writes, "Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists."

The final paragraphs of Harrison's editorial sum it up neatly:

This erosion of basic human civil rights is a slippery slope. If the government can get away with spying on us – not just in collusion with, but at the behest of, the US – then what checks and balances are left for us to fall back on? Few of our representatives are doing anything to act against this abusive restriction on our press freedoms. Green MP Caroline Lucas tabled an early day motion on 29 January but only 18 MPs have signed it so far.

From my refuge in Berlin, this reeks of adopting Germany's past, rather than its future. I have thought about the extent to which British history would have been the poorer had the governments of the day had such an abusive instrument at their disposal. What would have happened to all the public campaigns carried out in an attempt to "influence the government"? I can see the suffragettes fighting for their right to vote being threatened into inaction, Jarrow marchers being labelled terrorists, and Dickens being locked up in Newgate prison.

In their willingness to ride roughshod over our traditions, British authorities and state agencies are gripped by an extremism that is every bit as dangerous to British public life as is the (real or imaginary) threat of terrorism. As Ouseley states, journalism in the UK does not possess a "constitutional status". But there can be no doubt that this country needs a freedom of speech roadmap for the years ahead. The British people should fight to show the government we will preserve our rights and our freedoms, whatever coercive measures and threats it throws at us.

Britain is treating journalists as terrorists – believe me, I know [Sarah Harrison/The Guardian]

(Image: I'm a photographer, not a terrorist, Russell Trow, CC-BY)