Laptop and documents are seized from reporter

White House spokesman Josh Earnest greeted the news of UK police detaining a loved one of the main reporter involved in the publication of U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spying secrets -- with little surprise.  He comments, "There was a heads up that was provided by the British government."

I. The Gloved Fist Strikes Back

While the U.S. did not order the detention, it would nonetheless please some Democrats and Republicans, such as House Republican Rep. Peter King (R-New York) who have been vocally demanding that the international authorities prosecute the journalists at The Washington Post and The Guardian who were involved in the leaks, opening investigations against them and their families.  Rep. King stated:

Actually, if [a reporter/reporters] willingly knew that this was classified information, I think action should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude.  I know that the whole issue of leaks has been gone into over the last month. I think something on this magnitude, there is an obligation, both moral but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security.

Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian has primarily documented the NSA leaks.  But it was not Mr. Greenwald who spent nearly 9 hours in police custody at London's Heathrow airport, but rather his partner, whom he lives with.

Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda
Glenn Greenwald (left) and David Miranda [Image Source: Reuters]

David Miranda, 28-year old Brazil native, was harassed by seven agents who denied him his request to speak with a lawyer.  Under coercion he was forced to surrender password to his laptop and mobile phone.  He recalls, "They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate.  They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK … It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong."

Authorities seized his laptop, phone, DVDs, USB sticks, and other materials -- even a game console -- claiming he was part of a Terror Act investigation.  Much like America's USA PATRIOT (Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism) Act, England's 2000 Terrorism Act offers the nation's police oft abused Orwellian privileges.  Mr. Miranda was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act; the agents involved refused to give their names, only giving their ID numbers.

The maximum police can hold a person in England under the Terror Act is 9 hours -- after that you have to either arrest the person or release them.  After a grueling 8+ hours, Mr. Miranda was finally released.

According to recent statistics only 3 out of 10,000 people are detained this way and only 1 out of 2,000 detainees is kept for more than an hour.  Thus Mr. Miranda's detention appears to be a 3 in 20 million occurrence -- a most extraordinary harassment measure.

II. Glenn Greenwald Vows to Leak Even More Secrets

The move appears to have backfired, though.  

Numerous politicians in Britain and Mr. Miranda's home nation of Brazil were voicing sentiments ranging from unhappiness to outright rage over the detention.  And Mr. Greenwald released a statement saying the harassment compels him to leak even bigger secrets on the U.S. and British surveillance programs that he allegedly holds.

UK police
The thuggish treatment of Mr. Miranda has prompted a backlash against the UK's secret police.
[Image Source: Reuters]

"This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process," Greenwald said. "To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.

"But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively."

In a separate statement to reporters he added:

I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England too. I have many documents on England's spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did.

Back in the U.S., it's unclear if reporters publishing stories on Mr. Snowden will face similar persecution.  The Obama administration has charged more than twice as many whistleblowers with Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 792) offenses as all the previous administrations before him (since the Act was passed in 1917) combined, according to The Guardian.  It has also spearheaded secret programs to monitor dozens of Associated Press phone lines and spy on a Fox News journalist, allegedly in order to investigate "leaks".  The administration has thus far stopped short of indulging the noisy cries of Rep. King and his anti-free media cohorts, but given past behavior it would not be surprising to see similar harassment occur here in the states at some point.

Perhaps Mr. Snowden wasn't using hyperbole when he suggested that he feared for his family.  After, all, it appears that Mr. Greenwald's loved ones are seeing just the kind of harassment Mr. Snowden feared.

Sources: Reuters, The Guardian [1], [2]

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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