How low will Big Brother go? Today, the efforts of the government spy agencies to defend their massive electronic surveillance systems hit a new low, as authorities in the UK imprisoned Brazilian David Miranda in Heathrow airport for 9 hours, the maximum amount possible, for no other reason than that Miranda is the domestic partner of Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who has worked with the Guardian and the Washington Post to organize the release of information about Big Brother programs used by the American National Security Agency and by European nations to spy on the private lives of their own citizens.
People are almost never detained by British authorities at Heathrow for the maximum 9 hours allowed by British law. Miranda was released without ever being accused of a crime, but only after British agents had seized Miranda’s personal property. Significant among the items of Miranda’s property that were seized by the British government were his electronic communications equipment – computer, camera, cell phone, small hard drives, and DVDs.
This is beyond irony. It’s blatant, unashamed abuse of power. Here the British government is, punishing Glenn Greenwald by going after his domestic partner. The UK is angry that Greenwald helped Snowden reveal information not just about the NSA’s military spying program against the American people, but the UK’s equivalent abusing spying program, run out of the Government Communications Headquarters. So, instead of stopping to consider that their authoritarian program is wrong, the Brits engage in more Big Brother behavior, throwing a man in prison just to intimidate his loved ones, and searching through his emails and private documents simply because they have the power to do so.
The law that the UK used to justify Miranda’s imprisonment and interrogation was Section 7 of the Terrorism Act. That law is supposed to be used “to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” No one can seriously believe that either David Miranda or Glenn Greewald are committing, preparing, or instigating terrorist attacks.
The United Kingdom’s abusive tactics are just one more example of how the extraordinary government powers that were justified as necessary to protect against terrorism, are in fact being used in the UK and USA to squash dissent and to create centralized governmental powers that are slipping dangerously toward totalitarianism.