The partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald has been detained for nine hours by British officials under the United Kingdom's Terrorism Act.
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald claimed on Monday that the British security officials had questioned his boyfriend, 28-year-old David Miranda, about the Guardian newspaper's recent reporting on national security leaks made by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Miranda, a Brazilian national, was passing through London's Heathrow Airport when he was detained on Sunday. He was returning to Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with Greenwald, after visiting US filmmaker Laura Poitras in Berlin. Poitras has worked with Greenwald on the Snowden leaks. Miranda's trip to Berlin was financed by the Guardian.
A US journalist and lawyer, Greenwald is currently in possession of more than 15,000 secret documents leaked to him by Snowden. Greenwald's reporting for the Guardian has publicly exposed once secret mass surveillance programs such as PRISM in the US and Tempora in the UK.
“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,” Greenwald wrote in an article published Monday on the Guardian's website.
Schedule 7 of Terrorism Act
Miranda was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Schedule 7 allows authorities to detain and question people at a port of entry for up to nine hours without access to a lawyer.
“The Terrorism Act Schedule 7 is incredibly broad,” Fiona de Londras, co-director of the Durham Human Rights Centre, told DW. “It permits an examining officer at a port to question anybody who is within the UK, having arrived on or about to leave on a ship or an airplane, without any reasonable suspicion or basis for doing so whatsoever.”
Miranda's laptop, cell phone, USB memory sticks as well as DVDs and game consoles were confiscated by British authorities, according to Greenwald. Under the act, property can be confiscated for up to seven days or for the duration of a criminal or deportation proceeding.
“There is no real clarity about whether or not when property is returned, like laptops for example, any data on that can be copied and retained,” de Londras said. “There are very weak safeguards there, so even if you get your laptop back, some of your data might have been copied off of it.”
Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, has released statistics on the use of Schedule 7. From the beginning of 2012 through July 2013, authorities used their Schedule 7 powers to question 61,145 people. The majority of those people, some 63 percent, were questioned for 15 minutes or less.
Miranda, on the other hand, was questioned for the maximum nine hours allowed under the law. That puts him in a very select category. Between April 2009 and March 2012, just .06 percent of those held under Schedule 7 were questioned for more than six hours, according to the independent reviewer.
"You can see what an unusual case this was if it is correct that Mr Miranda was held right up to nine-hour limit," Anderson told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.
Calls for explanation
London Metropolitan Police confirmed that Miranda had been detained and subsequently released. But so far, authorities have not provided a reason for his detention.
“They may have a perfectly reasonable explanation,” Keith Vaz, chairman of the British parliament's home affairs select committee, told BBC Radio 4.
“What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr. Greenwald and the Brazilian government,” Vaz said.
The Brazilian foreign ministry has criticized British authorities for questioning Miranda, warning London against targeting Brazilian nationals in the future.
“This measure is without justification since it involves an individual against whom there are no charges that can justify the use of that legislation,” the ministry said in a press release.
According to de Londras, only a report by the examining officer could establish why exactly Miranda was questioned. But Schedule 7's sweeping language allows security officials to stop virtually anyone to determine whether or not that person is a terrorist.
“The strict legal answer is simply that an officer using Schedule 7 wanted to determine whether or not he was a terrorist,” de Londras said. “There's no way of clearly knowing in advance whether or not they knew who Mr. Miranda was.”
“They don't have to suspect that you're involved in terrorism to stop you under this act - they can stop anybody,” she said.