The Home Secretary did the rounds in the media yesterday, insisting the police are independent and she had nothing to do with the decision to detain Miranda, but simultaneously defending the law they were acting on and the decision they made:
I think it is right, given that it is the first duty of the government to protect the public, that if the police believe somebody has in their possession highly sensitive stolen information which could help terrorists which could lead to a loss of lives then it is right that the police act. That is what the law enables them to do.
Let’s just dwell on this for a second and unpack its implications. First off, note the heavy use of conditionals. Could help terrorists. Could lead to a loss of lives. The bar is immediately lowered such that almost anything could be hypothetically justified in the name of preventing possible deaths, because the state’s first duty of protecting the public is seemingly believed to be boundless.
Secondly but equally important, note that there’s no mention of the necessity of any intent to help terrorists. Sufficient for the police to act in this way, in May’s mind, should be the mere fact that something they possess might cause deaths. We can take it that she deems it irrelevant whether there are other motives for possessing the object or information in question. After all, if there was going to be a good overriding reason for refraining from state action here, the free reporting by journalists of secretive and invasive programmes would surely count insofar as that kind of activity is essential to any healthy democracy. Again, the duty of protecting the public is supposed to be an unrivalled trump card. It’s unclear what restrictions on state power would be justified once this worrying world view is adopted.
And the reason it’s particularly absurd in this context is that the information in question alleged to be of use to terrorists is about precisely the secretive programmes governments are using in the name of fighting terrorists. It becomes a self-fulfilling, impenetrable logical circle: The government must protect people. It acts secretly to do so. Concerned people expose the secret acts. The exposure itself is said to endanger protection, justifying state interference once more. Can they not see the authoritarian hell hole they’re creating? And how was May able to give this line to journalists without them making her address the absurdity of her logic?