Britain's intimidation of the Guardian newspaper, and its detention of a Brazilian national under a terrorism provision serve as warning for what governments with dirty secrets are prepared to do. Complacency will enable them.
While New Zealand grapples with the fiasco that is the GCSB legislation, those who believe that the innocent have nothing to fear from the state should look closely at the case of Brazilian national David Miranda, and British government intimidation and harassment of the Guardian newspaper.
Miranda was held by British police at Heathrow for nearly nine hours under terrorism laws despite it being blindingly obvious Miranda did not fit any description of an actual terrorist, nor, given the line of the interrogation, did the police consider him a potential terrorist.
Miranda did not have a lawyer, was refused a phone call, did not have an interpreter when he was grilled extensively about his life and in particular about his partner Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald who has been working with NSB whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Miranda was threatened with prison should he refuse to reveal passwords to his personal computer, and was forced to surrender said computer and other personal possessions - all because of who his partner is.
The British police have thereby managed to conflate terrorism and journalism.
This makes a mockery of Schedule 7 of the BritishTerrorism Act 2000, and it exposes the government’s intent to intimidate those who may embarrass it.
We live in an age where “security concerns” have become a very useful excuse for authorities to stop, search, detain and/or interrogate anyone they choose.
We have all largely gone along with it, moaning about intrusive searches and ludicrously long queues at security, but by and large we are good little sheep.
Lately, thanks to the revelations for which Bradley Manning will spend the next 35 years in prison for, and Edward Snowden who will likely have a miserable time in Russia and who knows where else, we know that just because governments say these physical inconveniences together with indiscriminate trawling of web data are for our own individual and collective safety doesn’t mean it is so.
Most of us probably knew that before, but the Wikileaks cables and the NSB documents have confirmed it with bells on.
Reassuring noises from governments about why they need extensive surveillance powers that we need not worry our silly little heads about, are far from reassuring.
Miranda’s detention is a prime example of how security laws can be abused if it serves governments which are desperate to mitigate their own illegal and politically embarrassing actions.
Laws can be manipulated in order to threaten and exact revenge.
Attacking the media is the resort of governments with much to hide.
Just as the disastrous interim government in Egypt has shut down news organisations sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, David Cameron set his thugs on the Guardian.
In so doing, he and those who did his and the United States’ dirty work revealed an alarming ignorance of journalism circa 2013.
As Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger revealed to the world, he complied with orders to destroy material Snowden gave the paper because he had copies of it elsewhere. He destroyed a copy rather than surrender the information to the British government.
I suppose it could be considered sweetly naive that Cameron & Co thought that would be the end of the dastardly troublesome leaks, but it is not sweet at all.
It is the behaviour of bullies, particularly when it is done in tandem with detaining a passenger who is of such little threat to Britain’s security that after his 9 hour interrogation not only were no charges laid, but he was escorted through customs into the U.K. so he could wait for the next available plane to Rio.
The actions against the Guardian and Miranda are deeply troubling.
They are not confined to Britain or the United States.
The debacle over state surveillance of emails between journalists and politicians in New Zealand is testament to that.
The Key government’s dumbing down of the issue, employing a ‘nothing to see here, now move along and worry about your fish quota’ tactic is scary because it seems to be working.
As Anne Salmond so clearly and eloquently argues, our fundamental rights as citizens - and as journalists - are at stake.
If the innocent amongst us have nothing to worry about when our private data is scooped up, then an innocent government surely has nothing to fear from sunlight.
Unless we are journalists in China or North Korea, or other authoritarian domains it is not the job of the media to be patriotic, if by that governments mean uncritical.
It is interesting that the treatment of the Guardian by the guardians of state secrets has had precious little to do with the guardianship of the rights of the public or the media.
Even more co-incidental, is the behaviour towards David Miranda has given an entirely new meaning to one’s Miranda rights.
While Miranda rights are an American police formal warning before questioning a suspect, the British now have their own Miranda reference which skips the suspicion and the warning and goes straight to the interrogation.