METROPOLITAN Police detained David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours at Heathrow in August under the powers of the Terrorism Act because, they claim, he was guilty of “promoting a political or ideological cause".
The revelation has alarmed leading human rights groups and a Tory MP, who said the justification appeared to be without foundation and threatened to have damaging consequences for investigative journalism.
Glenn Greenwald, at the time of Miranda’s detention, was working for the Guardian newspaper and played a key role in breaking the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former American National Security Agency worker, about the NSA’a worldwide mass surveillance of electronic communications.
The implied message was that Miranda’s detention was intended to intimidate Greenwald and other journalists from further revelations about NSA spying. Greenwald has since left the Guardian and gone to live in Brazil.
Miranda, it has been claimed, was carrying some 58,000 encrypted British intelligence documents. He had spent a week in Berlin visiting a journalist, Laura Poitras, who has worked with Greenwald on many of his stories, which have been based on information leaked by Edward Snowden.
Now documents referred to in court last week before a judicial review of Miranda's detention shine new light on the Met's explanation for invoking terrorism powers – a decision critics have called draconian.
It became apparent during the court hearing that there were several drafts of the Port Circular Notice – the document used to request Miranda's detention under schedule 7 to the 2000 Terrorism Act – before the final version was submitted.
The draft that was finally used states: "Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security. We therefore wish to establish the nature of Miranda's activity, assess the risk that Miranda poses to national security and mitigate as appropriate."
The notice then went on to explain why police officers believed that the terrorism act was appropriate.
"We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material, the release of which would endanger people's lives. Additionally the disclosure or threat of disclosure is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism and as such we request that the subject is examined under schedule 7."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the police assessment represented a "chilling" threat to democracy. "More and more we are shocked but not surprised," she said. "Breathtakingly broad anti-terror powers passed under the last government continue to be abused under the coalition that once trumpeted civil liberties.
"The express admission that politics motivated the detention of David Miranda should shame police and legislators alike. It's not just the schedule 7 detention power that needs urgent overhaul, but a definition of terrorism that should chill the blood of any democrat."
Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for free speech, said that the police's justification for Miranda's detention was "very dangerous" for investigative journalism. "The whole point of such journalism is to find stuff the government doesn't want raised," he said. "The message this gives off is 'don't find this sort of stuff, or you will be treated as a terrorist'."