The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National SecurityAgency was held for almost nine hours yesterday by UK authorities as he passed through London's Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin to exchange documents with film maker Laura Poitras who has been working closely with Greenwald on the NSA story. His fare had been paid by the Guardian.
Snowden-related documents on encrypted thumb drives were seized from Miranda and not returned. Greenwald called it intimidation and said they would not be deterred from doing their jobs as journalists.
Meanwhile yesterday, Americans were reading in the New York Times Sunday magazine the full extent of the involvement of Poitras in the Snowden affair.
Miranda was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual before being released , the Guardian reported.
Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Greenwald’s investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Greenwald said. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Greenwald, said the New York Times in a report.
Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the material provided to the two journalists by Snowden. The British authorities seized all of Miranda's electronic media — including video games, DVDs and data storage devices — and did not return them, Greenwald said.
According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last under an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
Miranda was released, but in addition to the documents, officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
Since 5 June, Greenwald has written a series of stories revealing the NSA's electronic surveillance programmes, detailed in thousands of files passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Guardian has also published a number of stories about blanket electronic surveillance by Britain's GCHQ, also based on documents from Snowden.
Greenwald said holding his partner was "a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process.
"To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.
"But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively."
A spokesperson for the Guardian said: "We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities."
A spokesperson for Scotland Yard said: "At 08:05 on Sunday, 18 August a 28-year-old man was detained at Heathrow airport under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was not arrested. He was subsequently released at 17:00."
Scotland Yard refused to say why Miranda was stopped using powers which enable police officers to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports.
There was no comment from the Home Office on the detention.
Labour MP Tom Watson said was shocked at the news and called for it to be made clear if any ministers were involved in authorising the detention.
He said: "It's almost impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald's partner was a terrorist suspect.
"I think that we need to know if any ministers knew about this decision, and exactly who authorised it.
"The clause in this act is not meant to be used as a catch-all that can be used in this way."
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act has been widely criticised, said the Guardian, for giving police broad powers under the guise of anti-terror legislation to stop and search individuals without prior authorisation or reasonable suspicion – setting it apart from other police powers.
Those stopped have no automatic right to legal advice and it is a criminal offence to refuse to co-operate with questioning under schedule 7, which critics say is a curtailment of the right to silence.
Last month the UK government said it would reduce the maximum period of detention to six hours and promised a review of the operation on schedule 7 amid concerns it unfairly targets minority groups and gives individuals fewer legal protections than they would have if detained at a police station.