THE BRITISH government has defended the police’s right to detain a journalist’s partner if they thought lives might be at risk from data he was carrying from fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Facing legal and diplomatic complaints after police held Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner for nine hours on Sunday – and accused by the newspaper of forcing it to trash computers holding copies of Snowden’s data – the interior minister said officers were entitled to take security measures.
Home Secretary Theresa May said police held David Miranda at a London airport under anti-terrorism powers, which allow for action to prevent stolen data aiding terrorists. Material from Snowden, published by the Guardian, has revealed extensive US and British surveillance of global communications networks.
“It’s absolutely right that if the police believe that somebody is in possession of highly sensitive, stolen information, that could help terrorists, that could risk lives, lead to a potential loss of life, the police are able to act and that’s what the law enables them to do,” May told the BBC.
She added an independent reviewer was looking into the police conduct.
As interior minister, May said she was briefed in advance that Miranda might be stopped but she stressed that she did not decide whom the police detained. The US – which has charged Snowden, now in Russia, with spying – said Britain gave it a “heads up” but did not ask for him to be questioned.
A British lawyer acting for Miranda questioned the legal basis of his detention and said police seized a laptop computer, a telephone, memory sticks, a computer hard drive and a games console from him. He was later released without charge.
The Brazilian government has complained to Britain. British opposition politicians, human rights lawyers and press freedom watchdogs also opposed the action.