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August 23, 2013

Guardian editor attacks ‘misuse’ of terror laws as police say seized Miranda documents pose ‘grave’ risk to public safety

By PA Mediapoint and Press Gazette

  • Guardian editor says police 'misused' terror laws to detain journalist's partner
  • Police launch criminal investigation over seized material
  • Watchdog announces review of legislation

Alan Rusbridger has said the decision to detain David Miranda under anti-terror legislation was “a clear misuse of a law”.

The Guardian editor was speaking out about the affair after it emerged the police had launched a criminal investigation based on data seized from Miranda when he was detained at Heathrow Airport last weekend.

Miranda, a Brazilian national, is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who exposed details of US security operations based on leaked material from whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Yesterday, Miranda began High Court proceedings seeking an injunction preventing the Government or police from examining the material seized from him until the legality of the seizure was determined.

But the Metropolitan Police said officers had discovered a mass of sensitive material, amounting to “tens of thousands of pages”, which it claimed could put the public at risk.

Appearing for the Met, Jonathan Laidlaw QC said: “That which has been inspected contains in the view of the police highly sensitive material disclosure of which would be gravely injurious to public safety.

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"Thus the police have now initiated a criminal investigation.”

Miranda had been detained at Heathrow for nine hours under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The use of the law has sparked heated debate among politicians and legal experts in recent days.

Case review

Last night, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson announced a review of the use of the legislation in this case.

Anderson has written to Home Secretary Theresa May saying he wanted to establish whether the power to detain Miranda was “lawfully, appropriately and humanely used”.

Lord Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Kenneth Parker adjourned Miranda's injunction application for seven days – until Friday, 30 August.

In the meantime they made orders that the seized data could continue to be examined, but only for national security purposes and the protection of the public. The judges said this included whether Miranda himself was involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

Matthew Ryder QC, for Miranda, told the judges that he was questioned and property in his possession was seized "under threat of criminal prosecution in a coercive use of Schedule 7 which was unlawful".

May said before the hearing that the police were right to act if they believed Miranda was in possession of material that he was carrying for Greenwald that could be useful to terrorists.

In court, her QC Steven Kovats said: "Material taken from the claimant includes material the unauthorised disclosure of which would endanger national security of the UK and put lives at risk."

Kovats argued it was "necessary for the national security of the UK" for the Government and its agencies "to be free to have access to that data and examine it without delay".

Gwendolen Morgan, of law firm Bindmans, who was acting for Miranda, argued in a witness statement that Schedule 7 was used "for an improper purpose and was therefore unlawful" – which has been denied by the Government.

'A clear misuse'

Speaking, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival shortly after the court hearing, Rusbridger said: "It seems to me a clear misuse of a law."

He added that there was a "strong suspicion" that the detention of Miranda was "quite a carefully planned operation and wasn't random".

Rusbridger called for a wider discussion about the use of mass surveillance by security services and the suppression of reporting, following the news this week that government officials had overseen the destruction of hard drives at The Guardian containing some of Snowden’s leaked files and the jailing of Wikileaks/Guardian source Bradley Manning for 35 years.

"It cannot be that a small group of 'securocrats' get to make the rules, that no-one's allowed to write about it, if you blow the whistle on it you spend the rest of your life in prison and it's all discussed in a very small clique of people in parliament.

"I think what Snowden has done is already incredibly valuable. He has already changed how this is going to be done in future and from my point of view, as the editor of a newspaper, I will carry on doing what I can do to aid that debate.”

Rusbridger also claimed it was becoming "impossible" for journalists to have confidential sources.

"How do I know my conversations with sources are now safe? Well I don't know. In fact, I know the opposite," he told the audience.

"Journalism is going to become very difficult to do and you're going to be the losers, I'm afraid."

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