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Monday, August 19, 2013 

The police state was here again...

Something that never ceases to amaze is how it's only ever brought home to most people just how much power the state has when it personally affects them or those they associate with.  Call it the Damian Green factor if you like; just as it never occurred to politicians that they could possibly be arrested as part of police investigations into leaks from government departments, and so they acted outraged when it did despite how they had written the damn laws that allowed it in the first place, so today we have an outcry, not just from the Graun but also the Spectator over the detention of David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, by the Met during his stopover at Heathrow.  Cue the talk we've heard before in similar circumstances of dictatorships, unaccountability, malevolence, stupidity, abuse of process and so on and so forth.  This will of course then all be forgotten, so long as such powers are used against those the commentariat and journalists (and witness for example the Daily Mail, supposed voice of the rural middle classes, on the side of Caudrilla against the anti-fracking activists) don't much care for, until it happens again.

This isn't to give even the slightest impression that the detention for the whole 9 hours allowed of David Miranda isn't as extraordinary and as stupid as those same commentators have indicated.  Clearly, it is.  For the partner of a journalist to be held in such a manner by a police force in a supposedly democratic country demands explanation.  Who alerted the police to the fact Miranda would be travelling through Heathrow on the way home to Brazil, and did they also request that he be detained?  Did the notice come from the United States, and if so, from what government agency?  Who within the Met examined the request and then authorised the detention?  Why were so many items belonging to Miranda confiscated from him?  Why was he held for the full 9 hours allowed when such a lengthy period of detention without charge is extremely rare?  If, as is claimed, all Miranda was asked about was the work his partner Green Greenwald has carried out for the Graun through the whistleblower Edward Snowden, how can that possibly be justified under legislation that is meant to deal with terrorism?

Unlike in the case of Damian Green however, it seems unlikely we're going to receive any answers to the above questions.  The Home Office is refusing to comment, while the Met is merely stating that a man was detained and then released.  The government that said if you've got nothing to hide you've nothing to fear is staying resolutely shtum.  It could well be that the arrest was an attempt at intimidation requested from the States, or it might be that our own truly independent and accountable security services decided that they wanted to see if the partner of a journalist who's a thorn in their side had any further "secrets" to write about.  Whichever it was, did they really imagine that misusing terrorism legislation in such a way was going to take place without causing a storm of protest, even if only from those who'll quickly forget about the whole thing?

Or perhaps that was all part of the calculated risk.  After all, as the coverage (or lack of it, in some cases) of GCHQ and its work with the NSA has made clear, little things like not having anything approaching proper legal oversight of Tempora haven't stopped the spooks from trying their darnedest to "master the internet".  They also know that they have almost full political support for doing so, and a paper tiger of a regulator on overwatch in the Intelligence and Security Committee.  It's hardly surprising that Ming Campbell "isn't in a position to know" whether Miranda's detention was acceptable, as he's on the damn committee.  Not having an opinion or being indulgent of those who have always worked in the country's best interests is a requirement to getting a place.  The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, is at least continuing to prove he's a step-up from the wholly state owned Lord Carlile, but there's only so much he can do when you consider what he's up against.

Assuming this was something requested by the US, and that seems by far the most likely explanation, it also makes clear just how in hock we are to our friends across the Atlantic.  Miranda wasn't even so much as visiting this country, just changing flights at our largest airport as millions do every year, and yet that was enough for the mere partner of a journalist to be picked up and interrogated as though he was a "terrorist suspect".  Much as there has been deserved criticism of Snowden for his decision to accept asylum in Russia, a human rights abusing "managed democracy", this cases underlines what those merely reporting on the documents supplied by whistleblowers seem likely to face in the years to come: either intimidation, or as now can't be ruled out, prosecution.  What a truly sad state for the mother of all parliamentary democracies to have acquiesced into.

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