David Miranda and the Human-Rights Black Hole; the Case of David Miranda Threatens the Most Powerful Intelligence-Gathering Apparatus in the World

By Goodman, Leah McGrath | Newsweek, January 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

David Miranda and the Human-Rights Black Hole; the Case of David Miranda Threatens the Most Powerful Intelligence-Gathering Apparatus in the World


Goodman, Leah McGrath, Newsweek


Byline: Leah McGrath Goodman

David Miranda is many things--a boisterously proud, gay Brazilian; an outspoken civil liberties evangelist; a freshly minted university graduate; and the spouse of Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who has been publishing highly classified material leaked by former CIA systems analyst and National Security Agency (NSA) senior adviser Edward Snowden.

But one thing Miranda is not is a terrorist. The 29-year-old has never been accused of being a terrorist. He has never been observed associating with terrorists or traveling in terrorist circles. Yet on August 18, 2013, Miranda was detained under Schedule 7 of the United Kingdom's Terrorism Act 2000, at London Heathrow Airport, and questioned by British authorities for nearly nine hours--the legal limit. Just like a terrorist.

Miranda's story went viral in the days that followed--a function of the high-profile work he was engaged in with Greenwald, who was writing articles for The Guardian bringing to light the Snowden files that revealed the vast reach of U.S. and British surveillance powers. More than a year later, Miranda, who was never charged with any crime, is still grinding his way through the U.K. court system to prove his detention at Heathrow was not only unlawful but a dangerous abuse of the U.K.'s surveillance and counterterrorism powers--and, by extension, those of the United States. At stake are the basic human liberties every democratic society holds sacred.

"These people did not think I was a terrorist," says Miranda, who has experienced the U.K. only from inside one of Heathrow's detainment rooms. "They were sending a message: 'Don't fuck with us.' But you know what? We're going to fuck with you really bad."

In 2013, Miranda filed a lawsuit against the U.K.'s Home Office and the Metropolitan Police Service claiming he was unlawfully detained and interrogated under the Terrorism Act 2000. He also claimed that his right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) was violated. The U.K.'s High Court of Justice rejected the suit in February 2014, and his case is due to go to appeal in the first half of 2015. In November, the details of his case figured prominently in arguments in a separate case heard before the Supreme Court (the U.K.'s highest appeals court) in London, where a panel of five justices pondered whether the scope of Britain's counterterrorism powers impinged basic rights.

A year ago, it seemed that most of the challenges to government counterterrorism powers had largely fallen flat, but a shift came last July with a scathing report from the U.K.'s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, who suggested that, in light of the Miranda case, the U.K.'s overly broad, "and some would say alarming," definition of terrorism was edging into dangerous territory.

Anderson, appointed by Home Secretary Theresa May in 2011 to troubleshoot the U.K.'s counterterrorism powers and recommend changes to her, the Treasury and Parliament in an annual review, is a senior barrister and describes himself as the nation's de facto "terrorism watchdog." His role gives him access to highly classified government documents and state secrets. While his suggestions are frequently the basis for adjustments to U.K. law and influence how police and U.K. courts exercise their powers, they are nonbinding. "The true issue is not whether the police ought to have the power to stop someone on the basis of the sort of intelligence they were given on Mr. Miranda, which they surely should and arguably do," Anderson wrote in his report, "but whether it was lawful to use counterterrorism law for that purpose." His recommendation: a "root-and-branch review of the whole edifice of terrorism law."

Indeed, increasingly the consensus within the U.K.'s legal, intelligence and academic communities is that the Miranda detainment was a botched job. …

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