Rule, Britannia

Yesterday, David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained for nine hours at Heathrow Airport while transiting from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who’s breaking the Edward Snowden stories. It seems certain that the authorities detained Miranda as a way of harrassing Greenwald, and to highlight the fact that Greenwald is gay; part of a character assassination job, a la Julian Assange. Miranda had a laptop and memory sticks, and there are reports that he was carrying encrypted documents from Snowden. This doesn’t seem likely to me, because people like Laura Poitras (whom Miranda had been visiting in Berlin) are well aware of the tactics of USUK. Greenwald, too, would have been well aware that his partner was under close surveillance.

David Miranda’s detention has been widely reported today in the UK media (here). In a previous post I was banging on about recent laws that have been passed in America, which in legal terms effectively make it a police state (here). Britain, too, is passing similar laws and also seems determined to become a police state. David Miranda was held under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. The Terrorism Act has similar provisions as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 of the NDAA allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial (bye, bye habeas corpus). The difference between the NDAA and the Terrorism Act is that the latter only allows for the indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals (ask Julian Assange, who was held for more than 300 days under house arrest without charge). However, the Terrorism Act does allow for the detention of British nationals for up to 28 days without charge (all these provisions were put into the Act in the years after 9/11), yet the Act provides a framework that can very easily be amended to allow the indefinite detention of British nationals.

Writing a police state into law is a bit more complicated in Britain than in America. One reason for this is because in Britain numerous laws often cover the same thing. For instance, certain amendments to the Terrorism Act make peaceful protest illegal in some circumstances (and in some circumstances it also makes photography illegal and gives powers to confiscate a person’s camera); but going through Parliament now is the Anti-Social Crime and Policing Bill, which has a jolly provision called the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). The PSPO gives authorities (including private security firms) the power to halt activities carried on or likely to be carried on in a public place will have or have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality (here). This of course can easily be made to apply to peaceful protest (and a whole host of other things). The American equivalent of the Public Spaces Protection Order is the HR 347 anti protest bill, which potentially makes peaceful protest anywhere in America a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Against the backdrop of all these totalitarian laws we have the Edward Snowden revelations, which have shown us that the American and British governments (and to a lesser extent the German and French) are conducting totally illegal mass surveillance of their citizens, and it’s with the full complicity of the big telecom and tech companies (here). Every digital document you create and every digital communication you make is now scooped-up by the NSA and GCHQ. In America there’s been public debate about the totalitarian laws and the Snowden revelations. In Britain there’s been barely a murmur, despite the fact that the British side of things is far worse (for instance here). At the start of the Snowden stuff, back in June, the government issued a D-Notice, which is an official request to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security. It should be observed that a D Notice is not legally binding, yet just about the entire British media have slavishly gone along with it. The BBC, for example, have done a sterling service, by keeping the British public completely uninformed about the Snowden revelations. The media do talk about Snowden, but only in relation to his flight from the American authorities. There’s no discussion about what Snowden has revealed (with the honourable exception of the Guardian, who broke the story). Likewise in the political arena: as well as the illegal mass surveillance, GCHQ is also in the pay of a foreign power; namely the Americans (here). Not so long ago a scandal of such large proportions would have caused them to recall Parliament for an emergency debate. But now all we get is deafening silence. It’s like two parallel universes: the real world versus the Stepford Wives world of the media and politicians. However, some Brits are taking action…

… and the detention of David Miranda has caused some ripples today in the media and with the politicians. Miranda had been visiting Laura Poitras, who is the other half of the Snowden revelations and who keeps well in the background. The New York Times recently did a very good piece about Laura Poitras. One interesting point about it is that the US and UK governments use these so-called terrorist laws to go after anyone who dissents…

In Vienna, Poitras was eventually cleared to board her connecting flight to New York, but when she landed at J.F.K., she was met at the gate by two armed law-enforcement agents and taken to a room for questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then — on more than 40 occasions — that she has lost precise count… On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks. She was also told that her refusal to answer questions was itself a suspicious act… After being detained repeatedly, Poitras began taking steps to protect her data, asking a traveling companion to carry her laptop, leaving her notebooks overseas with friends or in safe deposit boxes. She would wipe her computers and cellphones clean so that there would be nothing for the authorities to see. Or she encrypted her data, so that law enforcement could not read any files they might get hold of. These security preparations could take a day or more before her travels.

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets

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