I am no fan of Glenn Greenwald’s style of journalism.
I disagree with his lionisation of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, and his self-proclaimed martyrdom as a “brave journalist with a mission” grates. I am also wary of his conspiracy-mongering, which too often assumes the worst motives. But I am unlikely to win that argument today because the detention of his partner David Miranda clearly means that Greenwald would be justified in retorting with that cliché: “Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.”
It really is an outrage that the British police feel free to use the Terrorism Act to detain someone personally related to an anti-authoritarian journalist for nine hours of questioning, and seemingly in no way connected to terrorism. But as outraged as we may be, perhaps we should feign less surprise?
The misuse of terrorism legislation for purposes of harassment and intimidation has a long tradition (ask the families of the Guildford Four). In 2009, the campaign group I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist drew attention to how amateur and professional snappers documenting anything from demonstrations to tourist hotspots such as Buckingham Palace, were being questioned, manhandled and detained by police, who had received extended stop and search rights under section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
Yes, we should condemn the police’s confiscation of Miranda’s mobile phone, laptop, camera, and memory sticks. But whatever gave the police the idea that they could treat our means of personal communication as suspicious?
Perhaps it’s understandable that the British police has become blasé about focusing on journalists and their associates. Who needs to resort to anti-terrorism legislation when, post-Leveson Inquiry, the police have three ongoing investigations into the press, which according to the Press Gazette have seen 59 journalists arrested.
None of these journalists has yet been convicted, many have spent months on police bail, and all have had to endure hours of questioning. Worse, their plight has not been taken up by campaigning journalists of the Greenwald variety because – well – they are the wrong kind of journalists. So while it is terrible if Miranda was an innocent bystander in his partner’s investigations, what about the families of those Sun journalists arrested in dawn raids?
Greenwald and his intimates should not take recent events personally. You don’t have to be a heroic campaigning journalist to be targeted by an over-zealous police force. It happens to too many of us. We need more outraged headlines about these routine police infringements on the liberties of the less heroic, and even those we despise, if we are going to put a stop to misuse of terrorism legislation or all the other laws increasingly wielded in a disproportionate and oppressive fashion.
Claire Fox is Director of the Institute of Ideas