Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Miranda saga

The airwaves are abuzz with indignation about the questioning of David Miranda, a Brazilian national, who travelled to Moscow and Berlin on behalf of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Newspaper editors and journalists across the globe are angry about his questioning by officials at Heathrow airport and the fact that some electronic equipment he carried was seized under Terrorism legislation. The hyperbole in foreign newspapers reached new heights with some journalists claiming that Miranda was 'tortured by giving him water to drink while refusing him the right to use a toilet' or that he 'was refused legal representation'.

At second glance, the story looks a bit different. It turns out that Miranda was indeed offered a lawyer but refused to have one present because he wanted his own personal lawyer. This lawyer took his time to arrive (8 hours to be exact) and so Miranda did not say anything for 8 hours during his questioning.

It also transpires now that Miranda was used as a courier by the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald (who lives in Rio and is his partner) to transport illegally obtained data from Moscow to Rio.

So the nub of the issue is whether the British authorities have been acting within the law to question Miranda at Heathrow and seize some of his computer equipment (to be returned within 7 days). I think they were. More than this, I think they would have abdicated their duty to British citizens if they had not done so.

You may argue whether Section 7 of the terrorism legislation is particularly heavy handed (it is currently being reviewed) but there is no doubt in my mind that British authorities have the right to prevent the transfer of illegally obtained information about UK intelligence activities through its own airports.

Miranda's partner, the Guardian journalist Greenwald has now threatened the British authorities that he will reveal classified information as a revenge for his partner's questioning at the airport. It may be time that Guardian editor Rusbridger asks himself if Greenwald is motivated by the noble values of investigative journalism or more ulterior motifs when he submits his next piece for the Guardian.

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