Monday, August 19, 2013

Heathrow Isn't an Incident. It's a Principle

In case you missed it, yesterday for nine hours at Heathrow Airport the UK authorities detained David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, under an anti-terrorism law, and have confiscated all Miranda's electronic gear, including games and a watch.  No explanation was given; no news about when or even whether Miranda's property will be returned to him.  This is the kind of thing the US likes to criticize when it's China or Iran doing it.

Maybe you don't like Greenwald -- his personality, his reporting, what he stands for, whatever. Maybe on a gut level you find Miranda's detainment pleasing, and so you'll support it.  If so, remember that you're not supporting an incident, you're supporting a principle -- the principle that governments can harass the family members of journalists they don't like, or anyone else.  The principle that governments can detain you and confiscate your property without any due process or even a word of explanation.  That's the principle at issue here.  The government fully understands this.  Do we?

Some related reading:


editor said...

OK, I'll say it: I don't like Greenwald.

But nothing pleases me about Miranda's detention. This is the basest sort of example of using the process to punish. It's a shitty little cop trick, made even more disgusting by the smirking shrugs it has elicited amongst the powers that be. It's bullying, plain and simple.

When I was just a kid, I saw the local cops pull a guy over in a truck in front of my house. They tore his truck apart, left the seats on the road (obviously he gave "consent" for them to search for drugs) and drove away, leaving the driver to fume and curse and try to figure out how to get the seats back into his truck.

This reminds me of that indelible image. Despicable.

And, also, stupid. The blowback from this egregious behavior will swamp any possible satisfaction gained (I don't think there is ANY substantive benefit to the powers that be).

BTW, The Detachment rocks.

Jim Cornelius

Barry Eisler said...

Jim, kudos on being the rare type of person who can separate personalities from principles. And thanks for the kind words about The Detachment -- glad you're enjoying it.

editor said...

Well, to cleave to your point, if the government can use the process to punish those you don't like, they can also use it to punish those you do like. Or YOU. The GWOT is insidious because it breaks down respect for or even understanding of the rule of law.
"We believe in liberty and democracy of course, but clearly exceptions have to be made..."
It is the principle of subornment laid out by Rain writ large: Small transgressions for good reasons; you don't realize you've irretrievably crossed a line until the line has receded so far away that you couldn't reach it if you hung a 180 and ran for your life.


Ambon Pereira said...

I wonder what precedent GCHQ is trying to establish, in using "terrorism" statutes to shake-down a family member of a journalist, that would justify the (extremely predictable) blowback in the press? Did they target Miranda because Poitras and Greenwald had recently been showcased in the press (ny times) as the new exemplars of "prudent, encrypted journalism"? Are they trying to establish the precedent that: encryption=probable cause for search-and-seizure, more specifically the seizure of passwords directly from a suspect, under duress ("--give us the passwords to your encrypted documents or we will detain you indefinitely, or perhaps charge you with carrying classified documents with evil intent-- we have intelligence that suggests that you are carrying such documents, and you can only prove your innocence by providing us with complete access to those documents/your passwords.") If this were indeed the motivation of Miranda's detention, it would suggest the following: that the GCHQ/NSA are actually very worried that journalists/ordinary citizens will adopt encryption-- and they want to send an early-signal that encryption is "no protection"/establish the precedent that passwords to encrypted documents must be automatically revealed to authorities upon request. This might also suggest that the widespread surveillance program can only yield useful "big-data" if it is unencumbered by wide-spread encryption; alternatively, it might suggest that encryption is considered just another (albeit major) road-block to total-surveillance, and the agencies are being proactive in affording themselves an ultimate power to defeat encryption measures, namely arbitrary arrest and seizure. or perhaps I am crediting the agencies with too-much strategic thinking: perhaps somebody high-up in the decision making process is simply expressing the effects of too-much testosterone (which tends to produce the following outcome: the high-testosterone actor wins/shouts-down every argument in the decision making process, and promptly implements the worst possible long-term strategy; David Cameron strikes me as a typical high-testosterone actor, but of course this is useless speculation. really short translation: perhaps somebody is just being a cock, without clearly thinking through the consequences).

ryan field said...

But they can do this, and they do do this. I'm not a huge fan of Donald Trump by any means. But I think he was targeted recently with a lawsuit and I don't agree with that happened, on principle. However, most people are not informed enough to know that these things happen as often as they do.