Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 20th Aug 2013 10:39 UTC
In the News Another checkmark in our road towards a totalitarian society: government intimidating the free press, destroying materials, and threatening to take them to court - to shut down a newspaper. No joke. The British government demanded that The Guardian hand over all materials related to Edward Snowden so that they could be destroyed. If the newspaper did not comply, the British government would go to court to shut down The Guardian.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian's reporting through a legal route - by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention.

The newspaper told the government that even if they did comply, it would be pointless - all the materials related to Snowden had already been spread throughout the world, the actual editing was done in New York, the journalist in question (Greenwald) lived in Brazil - but the British government stood fast.

And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred - with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.


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Tony Swash
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Straight off I should say I have read the Guardian every day for four decades, I fully support the right of newspapers to expose official malpractice and think is a scandal that under the guise of protecting against terrorism journalists and those close to them are harassed because of the exposure of embarrassing new stories. I should also point out that my daughter is a journalist at the Guardian.

Having said all that I think it is a baseless exaggeration to claim that the British government threatened to, or even could, shut down a newspaper. What was threatened was to shut down this particular story, presumably through some sort of court injunction. Whether the application for such a story specific injunction would have succeeded is not certain although such injunctions are granted way too frequently in the UK usually under the guise of protecting celebrity privacy or to prevent publication of what is deemed to be potentially libellous materials.

I think that we must remain focussed on the very important real issue which is that legislation giving unusually draconian powers to the security forces to detain people at airports, which it was argued were required to prevent imminent possible terrorist attacks, were actually used against someone who clearly has no connection to terrorism and which no member of the security forces or the UK government has ever suggested has any connection to terrorist activity.

I understand the need to give legally defined powers to the security forces to act decisively when it is suspected an imminent threat is looming but once in place the actual use of such powers must be monitored very closely in order to prevent the sort casual extension of those powers into non-terrost areas of activity. I am hoping this issue will continue to generate pressure for some sort of inquiry into who authorised the detention of the journalist's partner using such powers as it was clearly an abuse of the system.

BTW doesn't the image of the the two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just about sum up how out of touch and ludicrous some parts of the security system are in the face of modern communication technology. I suspect they knew it was futile and pointless but like all good career bureaucrats needed to be able to show that something, no matter how laughable, was being done.

PS Originally posted this comment in Groklaw article comments by mistake - just ignore

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