In contrast, the British government's position was effectively, Miranda was carrying these highly classified documents through Heathrow. Of course we can seize them. In that instance, they were the ones behaving extralegally because they believed the circumstances demanded it.
To present the incident in the opposite light, to make it seem as if the British were upholding and Greenwald subverting the rule of law, Packer fudges the story, calling the British application of the law "opportunistic," rather than the more accurate "illegitimate," and writing about what Greenwald "seems to think" about the incident, rather than the claims he has actually made in his writing and the substance of the legal challenge Miranda filed and is still pursuing.
Now consider Packer's next passage:
If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi.
The first clause of that passage suggests that no one is actually being persecuted for their political beliefs. A sentence later, Packer acknowledges that Poitras was being harassed at airports because she makes documentaries critical of the U.S. government. This strange internal contradiction is resolved with the assurance that while these are abuses, they don't reach the level of the Stasi. Who claimed otherwise? Greenwald has written about the possible future abuses that mass surveillance makes possible (as Packer points out in the next sentence). What I want to know is why Packer regards "not as bad as the Stasi" to be a useful standard. Will he reconsider his criticism if I point out that Greenwald and Snowden aren't as bad as history's great villains either? Or is the bar only set so low for the state?
Stepping back, notice that in the same passage, Packer contrasts Greenwald's wrongs with those of the Obama administration, the people who've persecuted whistleblowers, presided over domestic spying on Muslims and launched drone strikes that kill Americans without due process. Yet it is Greenwald who, according to Packer, doesn't understand that "the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics."
Like Packer, I don't trust Silicon Valley companies to refrain from abusing the private information entrusted to them, and I'd favor some sort of data-retention law that changed the default presumption from "we can keep anything you give us forever" to something else.
I still couldn't believe it when I saw Packer making the following declaration in the New Yorker: "Between career officials at the N.S.A. and marketing managers at social-media companies, I trust the former more than the latter to maintain my privacy and use the information they have on me with maximum restraint." I presume that Greenwald disagrees, but not because I think he's a radical libertarian with an irrational distrust of all authority. Rather, I read The Intercept: "According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using."