Letters   |   UK

Cameron should probe Miranda detention, return data

August 20, 2013

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
Great Britain

Via facsimile: (+44) 2079250918

Dear Prime Minister Cameron,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international media freedom organization, calls on you to launch a thorough and transparent investigation into the detention and harassment of David Miranda by the London Metropolitan Police and to ensure that his confiscated equipment and data are returned at once. The use of anti-terror laws to seize journalistic material from Miranda, partner and assistant to Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, is deeply troubling and not in keeping with the U.K's historic commitment to press freedom.

As reported by the Guardian and other media outlets, Miranda was transiting through London en route from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro when British police stopped and detained him at 8:05 a.m. on Sunday at Heathrow international airport.

Miranda has been assisting Greenwald in his reporting, which over the past three months has focused on state surveillance on the basis of documents leaked to Greenwald and the U.S. filmmaker Laura Poitras by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Miranda was acting as a courier of materials between Greenwald and Poitras, the Guardian said, because electronic communications between the two had become insecure in the wake of the Snowden leaks. The Guardian said it paid for Miranda's flight.

As has been widely reported, police held Miranda for the maximum nine hours allowed by the Schedule 7 of Britain's Terrorism Act 2000. They aggressively questioned him about the Guardian's work on the Snowden files, without providing access to a lawyer until the last hour. They threatened to send him to prison and confiscated all of his electronic equipment, including laptop and hard drive, smart phone, smart watch, memory sticks, DVDs, and a games console.

The electronic equipment, which contained information of journalistic interest, has not been returned, nor did the detaining officers inform Miranda when they would be returning it. The officers, Miranda told the Guardian, coerced him into surrendering the passwords to his computer and phone by threatening him with jail if he did not comply.

Schedule 7 of Britain's Terrorism Act 2000 gives police broad authority to detain, search, and question persons traveling through U.K. airports in order to determine their possible involvement in terrorism. Schedule 7 has been widely criticized for allowing police to stop people without suspicion that they have committed a crime, and the U.K. government is reviewing aspects of the legislation, according to news reports.

It is clear that the police officers who questioned Miranda did not suspect him of terrorism, as they focused their interrogation on Greenwald's, Poitras's, and the Guardian's reporting on state surveillance programs. Rather, it appears they abused the law to circumvent routine safeguards of the confidentiality of sources and to obtain access to journalistic material. The U.S. has confirmed that it was notified of Miranda's detention, which suggests a coordinated effort.

Miranda's detention is the latest example in a disturbing record of official harassment of the Guardian over its coverage of the Snowden leaks. As Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger wrote in a column Monday, the newsroom has been subjected to government pressure since June to surrender the Snowden-leaked materials in its possession or to destroy them. On July 20, a day that Rusbridger called "one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history," two security agents from Government Communications Headquarters looked on as journalists destroyed newsroom hard drives, even though Rusbridger had pointed out that the information existed outside the country.

We call on your government to explain the detention and aggressive interrogation of Miranda; publicly clear him of any connection to terrorist activity; and return his seized equipment as well as any copies made of its contents. Taking these steps would counter the unsettling perception that the United Kingdom has abused its anti-terrorism laws to impede legitimate journalistic activity carried out in the public interest.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC List:

The Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister
The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, Home Secretary
The Rt. Hon. William Hague MP, First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Rt. Hon. Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament
Rt. Hon. Edward Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition

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