British court upholds Snowden-linked detention

19th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

British High Court judges on Wednesday dismissed a claim by David Miranda, the partner of ex-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, that his detention at London's Heathrow airport under anti-terror laws last year was unlawful.

Greenwald was working at the time with the Guardian newspaper and other publications on articles about US and British spying, based on highly-classified data leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was transporting some of the encrypted data -- including 58,000 British intelligence documents -- from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro when he was stopped while in transit at Heathrow on August 18, 2013.

He was stopped by police acting on a request from the MI5 domestic spy agency and questioned for nine hours. His laptop, phone, memory cards and DVDs were also seized.

Backed by a coalition of freedom of speech organisations, Miranda challenged his detention in the High Court, claiming it was unlawful and breached his human rights.

But three judges on Wednesday rejected his appeal for a judicial review, a decision welcomed by British Home Secretary Theresa May and London's Metropolitan Police.

Judge John Laws said the detention "was a proportionate measure in the circumstances".

He added: "Its objective was not only legitimate but very pressing".

May said: "This judgment overwhelmingly supports the wholly proportionate action taken by the police in this case to protect national security.

"If the police believe any individual is in possession of highly-sensitive stolen information that would aid terrorism, then they should act. We are pleased that the court agrees."

But Miranda argued that the ruling emphasised the restrictions on freedom of the press in Britain, and vowed to appeal.

"I'm of course not happy that a court has formally said that I was a legitimate terrorism suspect, but the days of the British Empire are long over, and this ruling will have no effect outside of the borders of this country," he said in a statement to The Intercept, Greenwald's new online magazine.

"I'm convinced they've hurt their own country far more than me with this ruling, as it emphasises what the world already knows: the UK has contempt for basic press freedoms."

The anti-terror power used to detain Miranda, Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, is currently being reviewed by parliament, following widespread political and media criticism of his treatment.

- Fear of Russian conspiracy -

Miranda and his supporters had challenged his detention on three grounds, namely whether Schedule 7 permitted such a detention, whether it was proportionate and whether it breached his right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The unanimous ruling authored by Laws said Miranda was stopped to ascertain what he was carrying and to mitigate the risk to national security that the material might pose -- in the judge's view, a valid use of Schedule 7.

While the detention "constituted an indirect interference with press freedom... In my judgment, however, it is shown by compelling evidence to have been justified", Law said.

The judgement also revealed that one of the police officers involved in detaining Miranda, identified as Detective Superintendent Stokley, was concerned the Brazilian might have been involved in "a conspiracy involving the Russians".

On the run from the US authorities after leaking the NSA data, Snowden sought asylum in Russia where he remains.

"D/Supt Stokley's acquiescence in the stop was influenced by his apprehension, given the connection with Mr Snowden and the latter's movements, that the claimant (Miranda) might have been concerned in acts falling within the definition of terrorism ... which might be carried out by Russia and designed to influence the British government," Laws said.

© 2014 AFP

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