UN Scolds UK: You Just Can't Detain The Press

You're in hot water now, Brits.

Two senior UN officials have sent a stern letter to the British government, demanding an explanation for the nine-hour detainment of David Miranda at London's Heathrow Airport, and reminding the United Kingdom that under no circumstances can they intimidate the press and call it an "antiterrorism measure."

David Miranda, partner and assistant of Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald — you know, the guy that broke the Edward Snowden leak and all the ones after, and is about to write a book divulging even more classified information — was stopped at Heathrow Airport on August 18, and questioned for nine hours under antiterrorism laws. Miranda was carrying tens of thousands of files that Snowden had given to the Guardian, and security officials promptly confiscated them.

The incident prompted the Guardian's editor-in-chief to write a strongly worded editorial, in which he accused the government of physically destroying even more top-secret Snowden files in the newspaper's deep, dark basement. Never one to be shy of criticizing the government, Greenwald swore that the government would pay for its attempt at "intimidation," and that he'd unleash even more files that would show the British administration who's boss. (Really. How many of these files are there?) The UN presumably took a brief recess from all things Syria to pen the warning letter.

"The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human-rights violations," was its central message, according to one of its authors. "The press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses."

The incident once again prompts debate about the tension between national security and national privacy. More so, it illustrates that the U.S. and UK governments aren't prepared to deal with the fallout when classified documents fall into the wrong hands: in spite of pressure to investigate the files seized from Miranda, the British government has apparently done little to identify exactly what they contain. And across the pond, President Obama is still going back and forth about how to deal with the public knowledge of the NSA's tactics, which have stomped on privacy to the point that they've broken their own private rules to do so.

Obama said Wednesday that existing laws may not be sufficient to deal with the possibilities of increasingly invasive technology, and the public's access to it. The president is still waiting on an independent committee to provide recommendations and safeguards regarding the NSA, but his latest comments suggest that he's considering a legislative limit on their powers.

Internationally, the U.S.'s diplomatic position has been compromised by the Edward Snowden leaks, which to Obama is no small matter. Not only are terrorism agencies adapting their tactics to outsmart the NSA (for example, al Qaeda now uses different methods of communication,) but foreign countries are weighing in and criticizing America's now-very-public policies. This week, it was reported that Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff is strongly considering canceling a planned trip to the White House, and cutting some commercial ties with America, after leaked documents revealed that the NSA had spied on her private communications.

The UK's government only comment on the Miranda situation has been a statement essentially pointing out that Miranda and Greenwald didn't do a brilliant job of encrypting their Snowden files. Missing the point, much?