As you likely know, David Miranda (the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist for the Guardian at the center of the Snowden releases) was detained for nine hours (the maximum allowed under Schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act of 2000) and had personal items (e.g., laptop, thumb drives, DVDs, cellphone) confiscated. As the Washington Post reports, the Obama administration admittedly had a “head’s-up,” but (in the words of White House spokesman Josh Earnest) “This was a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement and not at the request of the United States government. It’s as simple as that.” Ryan Chittum (the Columbia Journalism Review) has his doubts, and describes the detention as “police-state stuff” and “an attack that is at the very least implicitly backed by the Obama administration.”
The Guardian’s Editor Alan Rusbridger has provided an account of some of the events preceding the detention. The quote above is from a Whitehall representative seeking to lay claim to the Snowden material. According to Rusbridger, when the telephone requests bore no fruit, things only escalated:
one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
I am hoping that this was but a ham-handed act of intimidation (i.e., rather than reflective of a genuine belief that the documents in question were to be found only on the hard drives in the basement of the Guardian).
A Guardian’s editorial has more on the Miranda detention and argues that there is a larger lesson:
States pass anti-terror laws that grant exceptional powers on the strict understanding that terror poses exceptional threats and that such powers will be used proportionately. The Miranda detention betrays that understanding, since it does not involve terrorism in any way. Democratic leaders have likewise claimed to recognise the legitimacy of a public debate about the proportionate nature of the state’s weaponry against terrorism. This case suggests the state takes us for fools.
Philip Bump (The Atlantic Wire) notes: “In the battle with the security state, those who might commit acts of journalism have three choices: acquiesce, push back, or step away.” There is little indication that the Guardian (or Greenwald) are prepared to do anything other than push back.