UK sent officials to smash computers, threaten legal action over Snowden leaks

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The British government threatened legal action against the Guardian if the publication did not destroy the computers on which it held classified documents provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, The Guardian reports.

Editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger wrote on Monday that he was contacted in June by a “very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister.” The official ordered him to destroy the documents Snowden had provided the publication, and during one meeting he confirmed that legal action would be taken against the publication.

The government official did not appear to understand that many of the Guardian’s stories were being written and published out of New York and written in Brazil, Rusbridger writes. The official simply wanted the physical destruction of the computers, and so Rusbridger let him destroy a few computers in the Guardian’s basement.

“[The government] was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age,” said Rusbridger.

Rusbridger’s report comes after the U.K. authorities detained David Miranda, a 28-year-old Brazilian citizen, for nine hours under Section 7 of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act.

Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist and blogger Glenn Greenwald, was returning to Rio de Janero from Berlin, ferrying documents between Greenwald and American filmmaker Laura Poitras, both of whom have been working on stories relating to the documents Snowden provided.

Miranda, although not a journalist, is said to “often assist” Greenwald with his work. His flights were also paid for by the Guardian.

“Miranda’s professional status — much as hand-wringing about whether or not he’s a proper ‘journalist’ — is largely irrelevant in these circumstances,” writes Rusbridger.

“Increasingly, the question about who deserves protection should be less ‘is this a journalist?’ than ‘is the publication of this material in the public interest?'” he said.

Reuters reports that the Guardian’s decision to “publicize the government threat — and the newspaper’s assertion that it can continue reporting on the Snowden revelations from outside of Britain — appears to be the latest step in an escalating battle between the news media and governments over reporting of secret surveillance programs.”

“The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that,” said Rusbridger. “But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes — and, increasingly, it looks like ‘when.'”

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