EDITORIAL: Payback in London

The surveillance state gets personal in an attack on all of us

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Glenn Greenwald of the London Guardian has done more than anyone else in recent times to expose the dark and illicit underside of the surveillance state. He published the documents of Edward Snowden, the onetime National Security Agency contractor, that revealed how the government has been spying on Americans, and lying about it. It was only a matter of time until the empire struck back.

Over the weekend, Mr. Greenwald’s live-in companion, David Miranda, was detained at London Heathrow Airport for nine hours before boarding a plane to Rio de Janeiro. He was questioned under “Schedule 7,” a British law similar to the Patriot Act that enables authorities to detain a suspect for up to nine hours to determine whether he has connections to terrorist organizations. The airport authorities confiscated his cellphone, laptop computer, camera and several DVDs. Mr. Miranda is an unlikely terrorist suspect, with no bombs in either his shoes or his BVDs, and the arrest smacked of payback against the unavailable Mr. Greenwald. The White House was told of what was coming at Heathrow and did nothing to stop it — indeed, probably encouraged it.

The government’s abuse of the Patriot Act, reading things into it that Congress never put there, surprises even Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the act. “As I have said numerous times, I did not know the administration was using the Patriot Act for bulk collection, and neither did my colleagues,” he said. “Regardless, the suggestion that the administration can violate the law because Congress failed to object is outrageous. But let them be on notice: I am objecting right now.”

The White House continues to play “see no evil” with the American public. “I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “Part of the reason they’re not abused is because these checks are in place.” That was before the news broke that the NSA had violated privacy rules more than 2,700 times in a single year.

The president, the Congress and the American people wouldn’t be having this debate without the disclosures of Mr. Snowden and the reporting of Mr. Greenwald. Leaking government secrets is not good, but everybody, beginning with the government, does it every day. Government harassment of reporters is new, reminiscent of the way things were in the old Soviet Union. Government spying on the its citizens was wrong in the Soviet Union, and it’s wrong in America.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said Monday that British government agents descended on the newspaper’s London offices and smashed the computer hard drives that included documents from Mr. Snowden. But computer drives and the documents on them are often duplicated far offshore. “We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents,” says Mr. Rusbridger. “We just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.”

A free society depends on the freedom of the press to keep the government in check. Keeping the government at bay is hard and sometimes perilous work, and Mr. Greenwald deserves our thanks.

The Washington Times

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