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article imageOp-Ed: Does UK seizure/destruction of Snowden docs breach its own laws?

By Paul Wallis     Aug 20, 2013 in World
Sydney - The seizure and destruction of Guardian materials by UK police may have been carried out in breach of the laws under which the seizure was carried out. The case raises more than a few questions, none of which are being answered effectively.
Rusbridger (Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger) said that a month ago, after the Guardian had published several stories based on Snowden's material, a British official advised him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."
Rusbridger said the paper was threatened with legal action by the government unless it destroyed or handed over the material from Snowden.
The Metropolitan Police, London's police force, defended its decision to use an anti-terrorism law known as Schedule 7 to detain Miranda (David Miranda, partner of US journalist Glenn Greenwald and carrying the documents) "The procedure was reviewed throughout to ensure the examination was both necessary and proportionate. Our assessment is that the use of the power in this case was legally and procedurally sound."
Maybe not. According to the BBC, under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000:
Unlike with some other police powers to stop and search, there is no requirement for an officer to have a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is involved with terrorism before they are stopped.
A passenger can be held for questioning for up to nine hours and those detained must "give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests".
Any property seized must be returned after seven days, but data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for longer.
If someone fails to co-operate they are deemed to have committed a criminal offence and could face up to three months in prison, a fine or both.
Now the questions:
Is Mr. Snowden a declared terrorist?
Is Mr. Miranda a declared terrorist?
Are either of these people accused or otherwise implicated in any form of terrorist activity under any sort of UK statute?
The property to be seized was in fact “pulverised” according to witnesses. The laptop and memory sticks were completely destroyed.
On what basis is security-related information destroyed? For what purpose?
What is the legal status of “destroyed” information?
Is there any power granted to destroy information without clearance from those delegated to enforce security laws?
Is UK security assuming that unlike every other document on Earth, Snowden documents don’t have copies?
No other official action to obtain these materials has been attempted. Why was this operation carried out in this way?
The materials destroyed appear to be the lawful property of the Guardian newspaper. That means, in effect, private property. Is there any power granted under Schedule 7 to destroy property?
To be clear about this — There is legislation in force in all English-speaking countries which empowers seizure of materials in the course of carrying out legitimate intelligence and anti-terrorism operations. This is national legislation, and relates directly to “external powers” of government, giving it the right to manage affairs outside the nation.
It’s unclear what this exercise was intended to prove, if anything. Was it a form of intimidation, as many parties seem to think?
The facts appear to be:
Guardian property was destroyed without legislative authority, in fact in direct contradiction of the provisions of Schedule 7. The action was in fact a breach of conditions of the Schedule.
One more question, and it’s a nasty one:
Who’s “we” who wants the documents “back”?
Who’s really running UK security? MI6, or someone else?
I’d say the Guardian is within its rights to consider legal action for breach of Schedule 7 requirements for return of property and damages to the value of that property. Journalists and publishers might also want to consider what other information might be subject to Schedule 7’s apparently very broad interpretations.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about alan rusbridger, Guardian newspaper, Schedule7 UK Terrorism Act 2000, Glenn Greewald, Mi6
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