Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

This sort of thing is very disagreeable

Flags and rainbow

It’s not often that a current news event gets me angry enough to blog – especially at a time when I’m busy at work and haven’t had the time to write about anything else. But the recent to-do regarding the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport has made me a very unhappy bunny indeed.

So firstly a bit of background. David Miranda is the boyfriend of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald was the journalist who broke the story about the NSA’s spying on the so-called PRISM programme, via Edward Snowden. Miranda was flying from Germany to Brazil, and had a changeover at Heathrow Airport near London.

Whilst passing through the airport, he was detained by ‘security officials’. For nine hours. During these nine hours he was refused access to any kind of legal representation. Upon release, no charges were made but all of his electronic devices and storage media were confiscated, with no indication of when they may be returned.

Why was he detained? Well, he was told that he was being detained under┬áSchedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Wikipedia Link) – in other words, he was detained ‘to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’. And this was a planned intervention as the US government were informed in advance.

So, in summary, we have a person who happened to be passing through a British portion of international airspace, who happened to be linked to a controversial journalist, who was then detained for nine hours and not allowed to have access to a solicitor at any time. Oh, and if you’re wondering, only around 0.06% of those who are ever detained in this way are kept for more than six hours, and indeed nine hours is the maximum.

Frankly, this makes me ashamed to be British. To me, this is pure intimidation, and has been done for no good reason. It’s the sort of thing you would expect a country like China to do, but not us. However, the very illiberal Terrorism Act 2000 seemingly allows this to happen, even if it isn’t in the spirit of the law. Indeed, this article in ORGzine is very enlightening.

The Terrorism Act 2000 dates from the early days of Tony Blair’s Labour government, however, rather than use this as yet another opportunity to blame the previous government, our current prime minister David Cameron has instead said that it’s an ‘operational matter’. I have very little time for the current government (apart from it enacting same-sex marriage legislation) but I’m very surprised that this opportunity hasn’t been exploited, considering the almost universal condemnation I’ve seen since the story broke yesterday. That said, it’s also a bit rich for the current Labour opposition to criticise a situation that they contributed to whilst in government.

I really hope that there’s some kind of inquiry into this – and, perhaps some changes made to the act. It wouldn’t be the first time as some changes to the act were made in 2011, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. It was ruled that the ‘stop and search’ powers granted by the act did not comply with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – and I’m sure this interpretation of the act flies in the face of the ECHR too (in my humble opinion of someone who isn’t a lawyer). But we’re not hearing the right noises from the government so I can’t see this going anywhere. And as yet there doesn’t appear to be an e-petition.

I’ll leave you with a rather shorter piece by Robert Hampton, who hit the publish button just as I started writing this.


  1. On top of this, apparently the UK government decided that they were going to destroy all of The Guardian’s Hard Drives in a futile attempt to stop The Guardian from writing stories about Snowden.

    I can’t even imagine what you folks must be feeling right now. I would be fuming if the US government did something like this to a US newspaper like the New York Times.

  2. Between this and the news that the government went to the offices of The Guardian for the purposes of destroying data, I’m angry and embarrassed for my country of birth. I can honestly say that it’s not exactly a proud day to say you’re British. It’s shameful and unforgivable.

    Journalists may say things that embarrass the government, they may say things that the government would like kept a secret. But neither of those things are terrorism. And lumping everything that the government doesn’t like under that umbrella is an absolute tragedy.