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UK court says nine-hour detention of Greenwald's partner was lawful

UK court says nine-hour detention of Greenwald's partner was lawful


High Court dismisses challenge brought by David Miranda, who was detained and questioned at Heathrow Airport last year

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David Miranda (Agência Brasil)
David Miranda (Agência Brasil)

A British court has dismissed a challenge brought by David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was detained and questioned under anti-terrorism laws for nearly nine hours last year at London's Heathrow Airport. As Reuters reports, Miranda's lawyers argued that the detention was unlawful and a breach of human rights, but the High Court disagreed, ruling that authorities acted within the bounds of the UK's Terrorist Act.

Miranda was detained in August 2013 under Schedule 7 of the Terrorist Act — a statute that allows anti-terror authorities to detain people entering the country for up to nine hours in order to determine whether they have any ties to terrorist groups. Miranda was flying from Berlin to Brazil at the time of his detainment, and was carrying devices containing 58,000 documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

"Its objective was not only legitimate, but very pressing."

Authorities confiscated the documents and Miranda's equipment, in what Greenwald later described as a "total abuse of the law," alleging that officials used the anti-terror law as a way to seize journalistic documents. Greenwald, a former journalist for the Guardian, has been publishing revealing stories about the NSA based on documents provided by former US government contractor Edward Snowden. Authorities, however, insisted that the encrypted documents Miranda was carrying could have jeopardized national security and endangered lives.

"In my judgment the Schedule 7 stop was a proportionate measure in the circumstances," Judge John Laws said Wednesday. "Its objective was not only legitimate, but very pressing."

The court went on to disagree with Greenwald's contention that journalists and government agencies should be able to decide whether published information could jeopardize national security. "Journalists have no such constitutional responsibility," the court said. "The journalist will have his own take or focus on what serves the public interest, for which he is not answerable to the public through Parliament."

Miranda's lawyer, Gwendolen Morgan, said her client's team has already requested permission to appeal the decision, telling reporters that in the meantime, reporters are already "making alternative travel plans to safeguard their material, sources and confidential working systems" when traveling through the UK.

"leaked or stolen material may need protection as journalistic material."

Bindmans, the legal firm representing Miranda, said that the justices suggested that journalists may need stronger legal protections going forward. "Lord Justice Laws recognized that the protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom," the firm said, "that leaked or stolen material may need protection as journalistic material, and finally that non-journalists including cameramen, interpreters, and assistants may also need the law’s protection."

Government officials welcomed the decision, saying it protects the ability of law enforcement to combat terrorism.

"This judgment overwhelmingly supports the wholly proportionate action taken by the police in this case to protect national security," Home Secretary Theresa May said following today's ruling. "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."