FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Right to Remain Silent in an Age of Mass Surveillance

by CHRISTOPHER H. PYLE

Last weekend, British police detained David Miranda, husband of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald at Heathrow Airport, seized his computer and thumb drives, and forced him to disclose the passwords. The computer and thumb drives presumably contained information about the U.S. National Security Agency’s intrusions into the private communications of millions of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The seven interrogators claimed authority under the Terrorism Act of 2002, but their questions had nothing to do with terrorism. They were, simply put, conducting a fishing expedition into Greenwald’s work as a journalist. The police did not charge his husband with any crime; he hadn’t committed one. The interrogation was simply an excuse to seize his computer and thumb drives and, if possible, trick him into saying something incriminating.

Had the NSA asked American policemen to question Miranda in an American airport, he would have had a constitutional right to remain silent. Indeed, American policemen would have to inform him of that right.  Ironically, that notification is part of the “Miranda warnings,” named for the Supreme Court decision that found them to be constitutionally required.

But Britain does not have a constitution, so Greenwald’s Miranda can be compelled to answer questions about terrorism, if a special law – like this particular law governing airport transit lounges — permits it.

Absent such special laws, anyone in Great Britain has a right to know the charges against him, and to be left alone if there aren’t any. Fishing expeditions of the sort inflicted on David Miranda were abolished in the seventeenth century, largely due to the defiant actions of one John Lilburne, England’s first libertarian. As we contemplate the largely complacent response of most Britons and Americans to the interrogation and search of Mr. Miranda, it is worth recalling “Freeborn John’s” story (See Jeffrey St. Clair’s: “What Would Lilburne Do?“).

Lilburne was a 23-year old clerk when he was hauled before the secret national security court of his day – the infamous Star Chamber.  The judges – politicians, really – peppered him with questions, hoping he would say something that might help them proved that he had helped smuggle dissenting religious tracts into the country.  But Lilburne refused to cooperate.  I have a right, he insisted, to know what this inquisition is about before I place my soul at risk by swearing before God to tell the truth in response to any and all irrelevant questions you may ask me.

David Miranda was placed in a similar situation.  If he did not answer every question about anything his seven interrogators chose to ask him, he could be convicted of non-cooperation. Or, if one of his answers was later found to be untruthful, he could also be sent to jail, even though he was never tried for any crime.

Faced with these choices, Lilburne decided to remain silent and was condemned to be fined, whipped, pilloried and imprisoned until he obeyed. In April 1638, he was dragged by his hands, which were lashed to an ox cart, two miles through the streets of London, and whipped every few steps across his bleeding back.  Then Lilburne was clapped into a pillory where, despite his contorted position and great pain, he managed to inflame a large crowd about the injustices inflicted upon him.  In prison he was denied food and kept alive by other prisoners who shared their meager rations with him through the floorboards. But, unlike many prisoners today, Lilburne was able to write against such treatment and smuggle his tracts out to a printer.  Before long, “Freeborn John Lilburne” was the most popular man in Great Britain and an inspiration to American colonists who would make his privilege against self incrimination part of their own laws.

Today, no one remembers Lilburne or what he sacrificed to make us free.  Surprisingly few people value what David Miranda and his partner Glenn Greenwald are doing to publish the NSA documents that Edward Snowden has given to them – documents that show serious constitutional violations.

Meanwhile, officials on both sides of the Atlantic are trying, yet again, to control what can be read by the people and who can be spied upon, intimidated, or forced through secret inquisitions to become the instruments of their own doom. What have we come to when there is so little resistance to such thuggery?

Christopher H. Pyle teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics and Getting Away with Torture. In 1970, he disclosed the U.S. military’s surveillance of civilian politics and worked as a consultant to three Congressional committees, including the Church Committee. 

 

Christopher H. Pyle teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics and Getting Away with Torture. He  is currently writing a book about money in politics.In 1970, he disclosed the U.S. military’s surveillance of civilian politics and worked as a consultant to three Congressional committees, including the Church Committee.   

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail