So here’s an interesting thing. I’m sure I’m not going to be the first person to point it out, but it hasn’t been given a lot of coverage that I’ve seen. You know that “anti-terrorist” legislation that our government uses to detain the partners of journalists who do things it doesn’t like? You’d think that the law in question would be one of those rushed, ambiguously-worded bills passed in a bout of post-September-11th hysteria, wouldn’t you? After all, you remember what it was like; feelings running high, serious-looking people on every TV screen solemnly telling us that the Rules Had Changed – in that climate it’s easy to see how hastily-written legislation could have the odd loophole that’s open to abuse, right?
It’s certainly true that there’s no shortage of laws which do fit that description, but actually the law under which David Miranda was detained wasn’t one of them. Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act of 2000, which predated the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks by well over a year. And there really isn’t anything remotely ambiguous in the wording at all. Here’s Schedule 7, Paragraph 2, of the Act:
Power to stop, question and detain
(1) An examining officer may question a person to whom this paragraph applies for the purpose of determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b).
(2) This paragraph applies to a person if—(a)he is at a port or in the border area, and(b)the examining officer believes that the person’s presence at the port or in the area is connected with his entering or leaving Great Britain or Northern Ireland [F1 or his travelling by air within Great Britain or within Northern Ireland].
(3) This paragraph also applies to a person on a ship or aircraft which has arrived [F2 at any place in Great Britain or Northern Ireland (whether from within or outside Great Britain or Northern Ireland).]
(4) An examining officer may exercise his powers under this paragraph whether or not he has grounds for suspecting that a person falls within section 40(1)(b). [My emphasis]
In case you’re wondering why this is significant, section 40(1)(b) of the Act is a definition of the term “terrorist”. So point 4 of the part I quoted above actually explicitly says that police or border guards can detain and interrogate absolutely anyone they like under these laws, whether or not they have any reason at all to believe they might be a terrorist. What happened to David Miranda can’t be attributed to the law being misinterpreted or applied inappropriately, as some seem to be claiming. On the contrary, it seems to accord exactly with both the letter and the spirit of the law. And the Blair government didn’t even try and justify it by appealing to the threat of any bin Laden-style terrorist bogeymen either – Wikipedia states that the Bill was passed as “a precaution measure”.
But remember – we’re better than the terrorists, because freedom! Or something.