Over the weekend, David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was detained by police in London under the auspices of its year 2000 anti-terror program. Miranda was questioned for nine hours, the maximum allowed by the law, before being let go—but not before British authorities confiscated his laptop, cellphone, videogame consoles, DVDs, and USB sticks.
In a column in the Guardian today, Greenwald wrote that interrogators did not even indulge in the pretense of questioning Miranda about anything having to do with terrorism—but instead chose to focus on Greenwald’s upcoming stories about Edward Snowden, NSA wiretapping, and the global surveillance state.
“They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism,” wrote Greenwald, “a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop ‘the terrorists,’ and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.”
The action against Miranda was just the latest case of a state security apparatus openly abusing its powers.
Last Thursday, an internal NSA audit was obtained by the Washington Post, which revealed that the surveillance organization had violated its own privacy protocols “thousands of times each year” since 2008.
In some instances, the privacy breeches were allegedly accidental, as when the NSA wrongly intercepted a “large” number of calls from Washington, apparently confusing the city’s 202 area code with the international dialing code for Egypt: 20.
In other cases the violations were more calculated—including, in one instance, a case where the NSA went so far as to ignore and violate a court order.
If massive state security apparatuses are willing to abuse their power so publicly, as in the case with Miranda, it’s not hard to envision how they could misuse troves of electronically intercepted information in secret.
In a world where the NSA defies court orders, and where its British counterpart detains the loved ones of journalists simply to gather information on what they plan to publish, it seems impossible to dismiss the idea that widespread data collection from every single American citizen could be misused.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, announced last Friday he plans to commission hearings to investigate the NSA’s privacy violations. He said, “I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA.”
In the meantime, we can be sure that Greenwald is at work continuing investigations of his own.