David in no-win situation with Goliath

A latter-day David may have been denied his Miranda rights, but one has to ask why the non-journalist partner of Guardian investigator Glenn Greenwald was used as an international document courier, with his travel and other costs underwritten by the British newspaper.

The nine-hour detention and interrogation of David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 may, and I stress may, have been an attempt to intimidate journalists working with fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. If that is so, the British state must be condemned in the strongest terms.

If, on the other hand, Miranda’s questioning at Heathrow Airport was justifiable on grounds of national and international security, the state/s involved should not be abusing the provisions of a law designed to cover situations in which there is a direct threat to life and limb. It is not enough to argue for the legal and procedural soundness of the action. Let the full truth emerge, and spare us the hyperbole of both extremes of this argument: that of Glenn Greenwald on the one hand, and American and British securocrats on the other.

What we are witnessing in the reaction to Edward Snowden’s revelations concerning the NSA and its global data slurping is the dark side of patrician liberalism, with its disdain for the imperatives of the open society. One does not need to be an uncritical supporter of Snowden or Wikileaks’ data vandalism to appreciate this.

Aside from unreasonable and possibly illegal actions by the state, what bothers me about this case is the playing loose with journalistic ethics, and the implications for future public interest defences presented by investigative reporters who work with whistleblowers. The use of a non-journalist to do the dirty but necessary work of a journalist is something for which the newspaper should account. Contrary to the protestations of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, the distinction is relevant.