Conservative Home

« Brian Binley MP: Iran's President Rouhani is anything but a moderate | Main | Andrew Lilico: MPs are not "employed by voters to listen to voters' concerns" »

Nick Pickles: David Miranda's arrest shows why our anti-terror laws need a comprehensive overhaul

Nick Pickles is Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, and a music photographer whose work can be viewed here. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 10.09.51If a British journalist was working to expose Government corruption in a foreign country and their partner was detained – under anti-terror laws or not – then I expect the British Government’s response would not be the muted silence we have heard this morning.

Instead, it is our own authorities who detained and questioned David Miranda, partner of The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, under anti-terror laws. This was not a random stop and search. Only 0.06 per cent of all people detained under Schdeule Seven are detained for more than six hours. Miranda was held right up to the maximum nine hours. According to the Government, "fewer than three people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK borders".

From Greenwald’s article today, we also have an idea of what was discussed while Miranda was detained (without any legal or consular representation – you’re not entitled to either under Schedule 7). Miranda was not questioned about his involvement in terrorism, or how he posed a threat to the UK. He was asked about the NSA stories his partner had been writing and what information was contained on the various electronic devices he was carrying.

Whether you agree with Edward Snowden’s motives or Greenwald’s journalism or not, I think we can all agree that this is a case of anti-terror laws being used in a situation where there is quite clearly no suggestion anyone involved is a terrorist.

Indeed, the Terrorism Act does offer a definition of what is terrorist activity, from action involving "serious violence against a person [and] serious damage to property" or that "endangers a person’s life, creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system".

Whoever authorised this detention should urgently be made to explain under which of these areas Miranda posed a threat to the safety and security of the UK and why it was necessary to detain him for nine hours. Of course, another of the features of Schedule Seven is that it does not require any suspicion, so it may be that they just needed nine hours to confirm that they did not have any suspicions. Who knows?

This Government has already curtailed some of the worst excesses of the Blairite security apparatus, but this incident highlights how there is still much that could be done. This kind of abuse is not new – 82 year old Walter Wolfgang was refused re-entry to the Labour Conference in 2005 under the same legislation as that used to detain Miranda.

It is remarkable to think that in a democratic country you can be detained without suspicion and without access to legal representation, while also having all your possessions seized indefinitely, but such is the reality of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Perhaps it is reassuring, given the incompetence expected of what used to be UKBA, that in such a ham-fisted attempt at intimidation they have aptly made Edward Snowden’s point in plain sight. Yes, we have anti-terror laws and we’re not afraid to use them on people who are by no stretch of the imagination terrorists.

The Government is already examining proposals to reduce the maximum time period of detention and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism legislation has expressed concern about the powers to seize possessions indefinitely. However, if this episode highlights anything it is that tinkering at the edges are not enough – we need a comprehensive overhaul of our anti-terror laws and nothing less. 


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.