David Miranda’s detention – what do the public think?

Polling firm YouGov has surveyed the British public on their attitudes to this week’s big news story: the detention of David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who’s worked with Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence officer on whistleblowing / leaking details of the the surveillance activities of the US and British intelligence agencies.

‘Public divided’ is how YouGov’s summarised it, pretty fairly. This in itself is surprising: generally the public favours ‘national security’ over ‘individual liberty’ when push comes to shove. This suggests the police’s actions, possibly in themselves unlawful, have worried more than just the usual civil liberties groups (in which I include most Lib Dems). It may also have something to do with the Guardian’s original framing of the story, which implied Mr Miranda had been targeted simply because of his relationship with Mr Greenwald, rather than because of the material he may have been carrying.

Overall, the British public supports the current Schedule 7 arrangements (which are in the process of being amended by the Government) by a 3-to-1 margin: 66% support the police having powers to detain individuals for up to nine hours without the need for either evidence or ‘reasonable’ suspicion, while 22% oppose this.

I was interested to see the party breakdowns. (NB: we need to be cautious about these, especially with the Lib Dem and Ukip figures, as these sub-group sample sizes are much smaller and the possible margin of error therefore much larger.) As you might imagine, Lib Dems are least supportive, though a majority (54%) do still support Schedule 7. Conservative and Ukip voters are most enthusiastic, with 4-in-5 of their voters backing the Schedule 7 powers.

Under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 police are allowed to stop, examine and search passengers at ports, airports and international rail terminals. They may do so to determine whether a passenger is involved in terrorism. (They do NOT need evidence or ‘reasonable’ suspicion to do this). A passenger can also be held for up to nine hours for questioning about
whether they have been involved with acts of terrorism. In principle, to what extent do you support or oppose police having this power?
TotalConLabLib DemUkip
Strongly support3037261343
Tend to support3643334135
TOTAL SUPPORT6680595478
Tend to oppose149192511
Strongly oppose8311126
TOTAL OPPOSE2212303717
Neither oppose nor support979103
Don't know31311
YouGov Survey Results (20th - 21st August 2013)

But what about reforming Schedule 7 in the light of the David Miranda detention case? Though two-thirds of the public support the current Schedule 7, a plurality of voters (42%) also favour reforming it so that the police may only use detention powers where there is reasonable suspicion. However, one-third of voters (33%) support its retention as is. Lib Dem voters are most likely to back reform, by 56% to 36%.

Taking these events [David Miranda's detention] into account, do think the law should or should not be
changed?
TotalConLabLib Dem Ukip
Should be changed – the law should be tightened so that that the power may be
used only where is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ of involvement in terrorism
4232535635
Should not be changed – the police should keep the rights they have been given
under Schedule 7 of the 2000 Act to detain people entering or leaving Britain
3344263637
The law should be extended – the police should have the right to detain anyone in
Britain (and not just those entering or leaving the country) and seize their computer
and mobile phone, without needing ‘reasonable suspicion’ of a crime being
planned or committed.
121810120
Don't know1261077

A couple of interesting reveals from these figures.

First, the similarity of views between current Lib Dem and Labour voters. Scan down the figures for all the questions asked in the survey and they’re very closely aligned. Whether Labour voters would have taken the same view if there were a Labour government is a moot point, of course: voters tend to give a more sympathetic hearing to their own side, treat with greater suspicion what the ‘other lot’ says.

And secondly, the similarity of views between current Conservative and Ukip voters. This is most clearly shown in the response to the question of if/how Schedule 7 should be reformed. Astonishingly, one-in-five Conservative and Ukip voters back the police being given unlimited powers of detention – ie, the police having the right to detain anyone in Britain (and not just those entering or leaving the country) and seize their computer and mobile phone, without needing ‘reasonable suspicion’ of a crime being planned or committed – which are tantamount to a police state.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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15 Comments

  • And almost every one of our senior figures has said so little about it and in such muted terms that any chance of them leading us out of the debris of this coalition must be almost nil. Is there any of our MPs willing to show there is another way, or are they all waiting for “dead men’s shoes”?

  • The fact that 1/5 Tories think the police should have arbitrary and unlimited power to seize and detain anyone for any reason is mind-blowing. I guess this comes from reading The Sun for too long.

    It’s not surprising that UKIP supporters think that, as they are quite likely to be police-state supporters anyway.

  • The legal blogger Jack Of Kent says that the David Miranda detention was unlawful.

    He has interesting arguments. Basically the powers are supposed to be to allow investigators to establish the identity of a person they think may be connected to terrorist activities. Since they knew who Miranda was and that he was not a terrorist, use of the powers was unlawful. As JOK (David Allen Green) summarised the act “cannot be used as a fishing expedition for property”

    To quote JOK: “What schedule 7 is for and what it is not for
    The legal powers provided under schedule 7 are broad, but they are also confined.
    Unless they are being used for the specified purpose of determining whether the detained person fills the definition of “terrorist” under section 40(1)(b) then the power to detain and question cannot be lawfully used.
    And if that is not the purpose, then the power to search for property to assist in determining whether a person is a terrorist is not triggered, and this in turn means that the power to retain any property for evidence in criminal proceedings is also not triggered.
    In other words, schedule 7 cannot be used as a fishing expedition for property.”

    http://jackofkent.com/2013/08/nine-hours-in-the-life-of-david-miranda/

  • I’d love to meet that 1% of Lib Dem voters who think “the police should have the right to detain anyone in
    Britain (and not just those entering or leaving the country) and seize their computer
    and mobile phone, without needing ‘reasonable suspicion’ of a crime being
    planned or committed.”

  • I assume that 1% of Liberal Democrats is Alex Carlile. :)

  • Clear Thinker 22nd Aug '13 - 12:44pm

    I know that YouGov are supposed to know what they’re doing, but maybe the divergence between YouGov and Twitter can be explained by a poorly designed question? The second question seems open to misinterpretation. To me “tightening” the law means giving police and courts more powers, but this is the opposite of what it means in the context of the question. And if you don’t register the word “only”, the meaning can seem quite different too.

  • ” Whether Labour voters would have taken the same view if there were a Labour government is a moot point, of course: voters tend to give a more sympathetic hearing to their own side, treat with greater suspicion what the ‘other lot’ says.”

    I think you are correct. For example within the Lib Dems, would there have been the same number of MP’s and members supporting Secret Courts and TPims if a party of opposition?

    As much as public opinion is important, there are some issues where being counter cultural should not be shied away from. For a party with the word liberal in it’s name personal freedom and liberty need to be high on the list of such issues.

  • Alex Carlile – is he still a member?

  • Yes he is still a member. Last time he was in the news he was speaking strongly in favour of gay marriage I believe.

  • “66% support the police having powers to detain individuals for up to nine hours without the need for either evidence or ‘reasonable’ suspicion”

    It’s the scare quotes around reasonable that freak me out.

  • Peter Chivall 23rd Aug '13 - 10:07am

    It still leaves the Followership of our Party with some explaining to do. Why are they following the Home Office and US dominated Security Services? Why are they following nudges and winks from Cameron? Why do they not bother to seize the Agenda on personal freedom and civil liberties? Or do the Orange Bookers’ definitions of ‘liberal’ only apply to business freedoms?
    There is only one Party in Parliament with the word ‘Liberal’ in its title. Its leaders have a duty to speak out even when that might be awkward for relations with their Coalition colleagues. BTW where’s Julian Huppert when we need you. And has David Howarth pronounced ‘ex-cathedra’ on this, given how excellent he was over Secret Courts.

  • It saddens me to discover that my views on freedom of the individual and civil liberty are closer to those of right-wing OldCon MP, David Davis, than they are to the majority of LibDems. I’m not frightened of Inspector Knacker of Special Branch but 54% of my fellow LDs are really scary – particularly as I don’t which ones they are!

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