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Whistle-blower or terrorist: why the NUJ supports review of terrorism laws

23 August 2013

Michelle Stanistreet

The NUJ general secretary comments on the controversial detention of David Miranda and the increasing attacks on press freedom and civil liberties.

I was shocked when I heard about the detention of David Miranda for the crime of being the partner of a respected investigative journalist, but sadly I was not surprised.

We have had reports from members saying that they are coming under more scrutiny and surveillance, being stopped at borders, detained by the police, their work and equipment interfered with, simply for doing their job. The treatment meted out to David Miranda is wholly unacceptable as was the completely specious use of anti-terrorism legislation that was used to detain him.

Did the Met really think that Miranda was a terrorist?

Does being a whistle-blower now make you a terrorist?

His detention and treatment was a gross misuse of the law and clearly linked to the work of his partner Glenn Greenwald, who revealed the extent of mass surveillance and wholesale interception of internet traffic by the US security services and its collusion with GCQH. It's rather ironic that the police's response, in turn, is to put the partner of a journalist under what must have been considerable surveillance and then choose to detain him in this way.

We have now heard from Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, which published these accounts of mass surveillance, who said he has been threatened by "shadowy Whitehall figures" and says he fears that it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have and protect confidential sources.

The other reason why I am not surprised is that this government has shown time and time again that it does not extend its belief in the free market to a liberal agenda on civil rights and press freedom.  We have witnessed a series of measures to increase the power of the state over its citizens by surveillance, its over-zealous use of anti-terrorism legislation, its measures to undermine investigative journalism and the use of undercover police to monitor the activities of groups such as environmental and anti-fascist organisations.

As a union, we feel we are fighting on all fronts. The communications data bill would have given the government the power to order a service provider, say Facebook or BT, to hand over traffic. This information could reveal social connections and confidential communication between journalists and their sources. It may have been shelved; but it will be back. This autumn we are expecting consultation on changes to the Freedom of Information Act which will set new bars against obtaining information.

While all this is going on, we are battling against a government which is hell-bent on crushing trade unions. The lobbying bill which is being rushed through with indecent haste is a case in point. It is a spiteful attack on the unions, while allowing the corporate lobbyist to continue on their own sweet way.

That is why the NUJ has called on the TUC Congress, in a motion to this autumn's conference, to support campaigns to defend our democratic rights. It voices concern about the "increasing restrictions on the right to march and demonstrate", growing surveillance tactics and the police tactic of kettling and says: 

"Congress is particularly concerned about the unprecedented industrial scale of NSA and GCHQ secret data trawling and internet surveillance of tens of millions of citizens, British among them, revealed by former US NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Congress believes that the protection of privacy, beyond the necessity of providing a legal shield for whistleblowers, is of clear public interest, especially in the realm of freedom of information."

Tags: , anti-terrorism laws, david miranda, newspapers, the guardian