Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been trying to visit everyone before I leave for Germany. I only have two days left. I’m feeling quite nervous about it right now, so I decided to blog about something law related to distract myself a little. (That’s not most people’s idea of a break.)
I will lay down a little disclaimer before I start: I am a member of the organisation Liberty, which intends to protect civil liberties and promote human rights. If there is a perceived bias in this blog, and future blogs, that’s probably because there is. The law wouldn’t be interesting without a point of view!
The Terrorism Act has been put under the spotlight again after the David Miranda saga. In terms of human rights and anti-terrorism legislation, many people accept that the powers are draconian and reactionary. If you follow the news at all I am sure you will have heard of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. He leaked the documents from the US NSA (National Security Agency) and exposed their controversial activities, including: the gathering of telephone records of millions of Americans, and the Prism programme which allowed the NSA to have direct access to the servers of companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook. This paved the way for the surveillance of millions of citizens throughout the world. The true extent of the data collected is still not clear. However, it is clear that these activities continued with very few safeguards.
Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, played a key role in getting the leaks published. Earlier this week Mr Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow for nine hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Schedule 7 allows the border agencies to detain anyone they believe to be a terrorist. There is no need for suspicion. Greenwald has alleged that the questioning of his partner was an attempt to intimidate journalists, such as himself, reporting on the NSA scandal.
The whole situation raises questions about the surveillance state. However, many have picked up on another facet. The detention of Mr Miranda demonstrates how Schedule 7 powers are too broadly drawn. The border agency is able to use the power for purposes completely unrelated to terrorism. Various human rights groups believe that this infringes basic human rights. Liberty have claimed that the power has become a ‘byword for racial profiling’ because border agencies are more likely to utilise the Schedule based on racial stereotyping. The number of court cases concerning Schedule 7 suggests that it is time for a change in the legislation, especially as it affects so many people (61,145 people in 2012-13 according to the last review by the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, David Anderson QC). I hope that Parliament revisits the provision to inject greater proportionality. Without a change to the statutory framework we cannot expect the border agencies and police to act more fairly.
Let me know what you think.