x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

David Miranda challenges legality of UK police data mining

The partner of a Guardian journalist who was detained and questioned for nine hours by police at Heathrow Airport has taken legal action to stop British authorities from mining data from the electronic devices they seized from him.

A man walks past The offices of the Guardian newspaper in London. David Miranda, the partner of the paper’s columnist Glenn Greenwald, was questioned for nine hours at Heathrow under anti-terror laws.
A man walks past The offices of the Guardian newspaper in London. David Miranda, the partner of the paper’s columnist Glenn Greenwald, was questioned for nine hours at Heathrow under anti-terror laws.

LONDON // A man who was detained and questioned for nine hours by police at Heathrow Airport has taken out a legal challenge to stop British authorities from mining data from the electronic devices they seized from him.

David Miranda, a Brazilian national, was held under anti-terrorism legislation while in transit from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

He has been working closely with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for the Guardian newspaper who was responsible for publishing many of the revelations about state surveillance in Britain and the United States leaked by the former National Security Administration contractor, Edward Snowden.

In Berlin, Mr Miranda had also been staying with the independent US filmmaker, Laura Poitras, the first journalist to interact with Mr Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia.

Mr Snowden's leaks detailed the dramatic extent to which US and British security services have been monitoring electronic communications in and out of their respective countries.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, described the leaks as undoubtedly "troublesome and embarrassing" for western countries, in an article in Monday's paper in which he also said British intelligence had threatened the Guardian with legal action unless it destroyed or handed over the classified documents it had received from Mr Snowden.

Mr Rusbridger said a British official had told him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."

Two security experts from the UK's government communications headquarters (GCHQ), which is also the British signal intelligence service, then supervised the destruction of hard drives in the basement of the newspaper's London offices. One even joked, according to Mr Rusbridger, that now "we can call off the black helicopters".

Mr Miranda is challenging the right of British authorities to examine the electronic items they seized while he was detained, which included a laptop, a mobile phone and memory cards.

Mr Greenwald has said police were guilty of "bullying". Mr Miranda's detention was "clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ", he said.

Lawyers for Mr Miranda are threatening legal action on the basis that his detention was "for an improper purpose and was therefore unlawful".

But it is not clear how successful the challenge will be: he was held under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows police to detain, without reasonable suspicion, anyone at an airport, port or rail station for up to nine hours for questioning.

The law also gives authorities a broad remit to search and confiscate, though anything seized has to be returned within seven days.

Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, has called the detention unusual and is to meet police about it.

Keith Vaz, a member of parliament and the head of the home affairs committee, has also written to police for an official explanation of what he called an "extraordinary" use of police powers.

"It is clear that not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved," Mr Vaz said on Monday.

The Home Office has defended the detention and said Britain's terrorism legislation was a matter of national security.

"If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with the framework to do that," said a spokesperson.

"Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning."

okarmi@thenational.ae

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