When David Miranda was stopped at Heathrow in transit to Brazil, the police detained him for the nine hours maximum allowed by the relevant anti-terrorist legislation. He was questioned about classified material on his laptop said to have been obtained from Edward Snowden, the whistleblower now kicking his heels in Russia in an attempt to escape inquiry and prosecution by the United States. It appears that Mr Miranda’s partner, Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at The Guardian, may also be involved if only because he has been writing a series of articles on material received from Mr Snowden.
Allegations abound! One of the most prominent is that the Prime Minister is said to have involved the Cabinet Secretary in an attempt to warn the Guardian of the dangers of holding sensitive material on insecure servers/computers which may have the potential to damage Britain. Government sources have denied that David Cameron set out to intimidate Fleet Street and claimed that the Government just wanted the documents back.
This justification for the actions of the Cabinet Secretary seem to demonstrate a certain naivety in dealing with electronic material. In the days when most data was held in paper form, the concept of getting the data back from the person holding it was a reality. Today, when the vast majority of all data is created and held in electronic form in a variety of different places, the idea that confiscating one laptop or destroying one or several discs will deal with the problem is a bit of a nonsense.
There are likely to be many other places where the data resides and almost certainly there are! The approach adopted by the Government, for good or bad, smacks of amateurism at best and at worst a complete misunderstanding about what they are dealing with. Do they really think that Mr Miranda’s laptop is the only place where the data resides? The issue is set to rumble on and on as legal proceedings by Miranda’s lawyers take their course. These things have a habit of lasting much longer than the parties anticipate when they set out on the legal process. Let’s not forget the time that Julian Assange has clocked up so far at the Ecuadorean Embassy.
There still seems to be a lack of understanding in many quarters, and clearly in the upper echelons of Government, about what they are dealing with here. Handling data in paper format is not now the norm. To try and use the same methods previously used when dealing with paper when the data is in electronic format is likely to be ineffective.
It is to be hoped that those who have not grasped this simple but important point will shortly recognise the extent of the potential problem and then start to think about how they can do something effective about it.
What is clear is that there are more instances of people acquiring and disseminating data as every day passes. Unless new strategies for dealing with the phenomenon are adopted, the problems faced by us all will only get worse.