Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Journalism is not terrorism

Back in 2013, David Miranda, the partner of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained by UK police under anti-terrorism powers while transiting through Heathrow. He was interrogated for nine hours, with no right to legal advice and no right to silence. His laptop, cellphone, and other electronic storage devices were confiscated. The ostensible reason for this was that he was carrying encrypted Snowden material, which could supposedly endanger UK national security. The British government called that "terrorism".

Today, the UK Court of Appeal declared in no uncertain terms that that was bullshit, and declared the law Miranda was detained under incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights:

A key clause in the Terrorism Act 2000 is incompatible with the European convention on human rights, the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, has declared as part of a court of appeal judgment.


Dyson said that the powers contained in schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act (2000) were flawed. Schedule 7 of the Act allows travellers to be questioned in order to find out whether they appear to be terrorists. They have no right to remain silent or receive legal advice, and they may be detained for up to nine hours.

“The stop power, if used in respect of journalistic information or material is incompatible with article 10 [freedom of expression] of the [European convention on human rights] because it is not ‘prescribed by law’,” the master of the rolls said.

The court ruled that the power was arbitrary as it lacked judicial safeguards. More importantly, it also ruled that terrorism requires intent - that one cannot be a "terrorist" simply by conducting entirely legal activity such as journalism which incidentally or accidentally puts lives in danger. In other words, contra the British establishment and its security state, journalism is not terrorism.

The ruling will no doubt be appealed. And it will also see the usual posturing by the Conservatives' authoritarian Little Englanders outraged that "Europe" is stopping them from arbitrarily detaining journalists for exposing government crime. But freedom of the press is supposedly a "British value", and if it doesn't protect those who hold the establishment to account, then it is an empty concept.