Miranda’s Rights: A Guide for the Perplexed Citizen

David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained at London Heathrow airport on 18 August 2013 under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was in transit between Berlin and Rio de Janeiro, carrying what appears to have been leaked classified material used for journalistic purposes. He was questioned without a lawyer, searched in person and his possessions (computer, phone, video games, other items), and his possessions were retained for a period that may not exceed seven days.

His detention raises an important point for the public about what rights a citizen or foreign national would have in such a situation, and whether and how such rights might be enforced in the courts. To answer that general, to some extent abstract question, I have made some factual assumptions that would cast the government’s actions in Miranda’s case in a dark light. The relevant question for many is about the legality and constitutionality of taking predatory action against someone assisting a journalist to publish leaked information about surveillance that is highly embarrassing for the government. The following discussion provides a set of answers to basic questions the concerned citizen might ask, and while it can at times get technical and lengthy, it is meant especially for the lay reader or junior lawyer who wants more nuance than what is available in the mainstream press.

1. Can the Government really do that?

If by ‘that’ we mean just crack down on a reporter or his partner/assistant, using powers that seem manifestly conferred for other uses, the answer is ‘no, it can’t ...

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