This weekend British authorities detained David Miranda — a Brazilian citizen and partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald — for nine hours at Heathrow Airport as he traveled from Berlin to Brazil. Miranda was detained under Schedule 7 of the U.K.'s Terrorism Act of 2000, which allows up-to-nine-hour detentions at the border when British agents wish to question travelers they believe might be "concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism." British authorities reportedly took all of Miranda's electronics and electronic storage devices.
Miranda had been visiting filmmaker Laura Poitras, who has been repeatedly detained by the United States government when traveling here, and who — like Greenwald — is associated with the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Miranda's experience was undoubtedly terrifying and infuriating. On the other hand, at least he wasn't stalked and abruptly shot seven times in the head as he lay prone on a subway floor, like his countryman Jean Charles de Menezes, whose random encounter with British anti-terrorism policy was fatal.
Responses have been varied. Many view this as an abuse of anti-terrorism measures to harass journalists and pursue leak investigations. Others say that Greenwald was using Miranda to courier documents connected to illegal leaks, and should not be surprised that Miranda was detained. (I note that nobody seriously asserts that Miranda has any connection to terrorism; the people defending or minimizing his detention seem to be asserting that it is acceptable for British authorities to use Schedule 7 to investigate the Snowden leak.)
I know what I think. But I am waiting a bit to write more in detail. As I analyze the competing arguments, my view will be informed by these points:
2. Governments say that what they are doing in the war on terrorism needs to be secret, but governments have an established record of lying about their need for secrecy.
3. When governments say that they are using their powers to fight terrorists, government are lying. Government actually use their expanded powers to pursue whatever they want, including copyright infringement and the War of Drugs. Therefore it would not surprise me in the least if a nominally anti-terrorist measure were stretched here to accommodate a leak investigation.
4. Governments say that they are using their power to fight terrorists, as if the identity of "terrorists" is a static and principled matter. In fact, who is or isn't a terrorist is a political question resolved in the discretion of the government based on the balance of power at any given time, as I learned to my regret.
Those four points are mostly supported by references to U.S. actions, but I see no particular reason to expect the U.K. to act differently.