Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The day human rights went out the window.

Yesterday was a really scary news day. The detention of David Miranda at Heathrow airport under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has sparked outrage and nationwide, if not global, questioning of the incident and its wider implications. 

In short, if you've missed any of this, David Miranda is the partner of Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who has recently reported on Edward Snowden and assorted surveillance programmes in the United States. To clarify - Greenwald is the journalist, not Miranda. Whilst travelling through the UK en route to his home in Brazil following a trip to Berlin, Miranda was stopped by border officials and detained for NINE HOURS. That is nine hours without the presence of a lawyer, legally compelled to answer any and all questions asked of him, and having all his personal effects - mobile phone, laptop, even a video game - confiscated. After nine hours he was released without charge or arrest, basically because he had done nothing wrong.

That is horrifying. What is even more horrifying is that this incident was "legally and procedurally sound" according to the UK Home Office. The law accommodates this sort of action against an entirely innocent person, denying them the right to silence, exposing us all to arbitrary detention, intimidation and interrogation.

I decided to have a look at the Terrorism Act 2000 and learn a bit more about it - know thine enemy, etc. Good grief, it is terrifying. Ironic for a piece of legislation intended - if taken at face value - to combat terrorism. 

Schedule 7 refers to Port and Border Controls, and amongst other things says this:

"whether or not he has grounds".... whether OR NOT

As it happens, section 40 (1)(b) refers to the definition of a terrorist, but I think that's pretty much irrelevant just now seeing as this little sentence gives officers the right to detain absolutely anyone, regardless of whether they have reason to believe you're up to no good. 

That is, they have the right to arbitrarily stop you on you journey, take you to a small room, deny you access to legal representation, confiscate your belongings and interrogate you non-stop with questions you are forced to answer. And there is nothing, nada, zip, zilch we can do to stop it. 

I'm not alone in suspecting that David Miranda's human rights have been infringed here, and a cursory glance at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms that.

Well I don't know about you, but I'm really quite frightened. A year ago, I wrote a three part post about Human Rights and Human Wrongs (links to parts one, two and three), explaining why I champion the human rights of even the most abhorrent of criminals. I said then that it is because we observe human rights as universal and absolute that I could sit in safety and write about such issues, free from the fear that I could be arrested, tortured or worse. Once we started rescinding human rights of individuals and citing reasons they 'deserve' it, we are on a slippery slope to a very scary place. It takes very little for a government to move the goal post to define a "suspected terrorist" and then justify treating them in manner which wholly violates their human rights. 

Today the UK Home Office has defended the treatment of David Miranda. And that really frightens me too.

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