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British authorities defend use of anti-terror law to detain Miranda

British authorities have defended the decision to detain Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda. The newspaper earlier revealed UK agents had overseen the destruction of its hard drives.

Britain's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said Tuesday that holding Miranda for nine hours without charge at London's Heathrow Airport over the weekend was "legally and procedurally sound."

Miranda, whose partner Glenn Greenwald has written extensively for the Guardian newspaper about information on US and British spying provided by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. The law allows British police to stop and question people traveling through ports and airports and determine whether they are involved in planning terrorist acts.

Miranda said they questioned him about his "entire life" and seized his laptop, phones and other devices.

The decision to hold Miranda on Sunday prompted condemnation and calls for explanation as to why an anti-terror law was invoked. The Guardian said it was "dismayed" at Miranda's detention, and in a column on their website, Greenwald described the incident as "despotic" and said British authorities had "zero suspicion" his partner was involved in terrorism.

"This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the [US National Security Agency] and its British counterpart, the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters)," he said. "They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism."

But the MPS in a statement called Miranda's detention "necessary and proportionate," adding that he'd had a lawyer present.

Britain's Home Office also defended the incident, saying Tuesday authorities "have a duty to protect the public and our national security."

"If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that," A Home Office spokesman said in a statment.

The White House said that the US government had been informed ahead of time about Miranda's detention, but spokesman Josh Earnest said they had not requested he be held.

UK had Guardian disks destroyed

The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, revealed in the newspaper's Tuesday edition that two GCHQ agents had overseen the destruction of an unspecified number of the newspaper's hard drives, apparently to prevent further reporting on information provided by Snowden.

Watch video 01:50

Guardian had hard drives destroyed

In what Rusbridger called "one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history," the hard drives were destroyed in the basement of the newspaper's north London office "just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents."

Rusbridger did not say exactly when the incident occurred, but did provide a vague timeline suggesting it took place approximately within the last month.

The hard drives were destroyed after weeks of pressure from British authorities. Shortly after the Guardian began reporting on Snowden's leaks, Rusbridger said he was contacted by "a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister." The official demanded the newspaper either return or destroy the material.

The authorities eventually threatened legal action, prompting the Guardian to allow British agents to oversee the material's destruction.

dr/hc (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

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