Cameron’s reaction to GCHQ’s snooping has eroded the freedoms of the press and ignored threats to civil liberties, open letter warns
A host of human rights bodies have written to David Cameron, asking him to end the government’s efforts to suppress debate about the Edward Snowden leaks on GCHQ and NSA surveillance.
The open letter, signed by a range of organisations including Privacy International and Reporters Without Borders, called on the Prime Minister to “honour the UK’s international obligations to defend and protect the right to freedom of expression and media freedom”, and end pressure on media groups which have published the leaked information.
Media pressure over GCHQ surveillance
Government officials reportedly pressured the Guardian to end its coverage of the Snowden leaks, even destroying some hard drives as an apparent threat.
The Intelligence and Security Committee has already declared GCHQ’s snooping efforts legal, whilst the intelligence body is not being drawn into the debate, unlike its US partner the National Security Agency, which could see significant reforms limiting the scope of its operations.
Despite programmes like Tempora, which allegedly saw GCHQ tapping communications coming in and out of the country, the UK has seen little in the way of genuine discussion about altering surveillance laws.
Cameron last month called for a review into whether the Guardian damaged national security by publishing the Snowden leaks.
Onlookers have also raised concerns about the apprehension of David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist at the heart of the Snowden saga, at Heathrow Airport in August. The official justification for the detention of Miranda, who was transferring encrypted leaks at the time, was partly based on worries he was promoting a “political or ideological cause”.
The letter warned the government may have violated the right to freedom of expression, as protected under British, European and international law.
“National security should never be used to justify preventing disclosures of illegalities or wrongdoing, no matter how embarrassing such disclosures may be to the UK or other governments. In the case of Snowden and the Guardian, the disclosures have facilitated a much-needed public debate about mass surveillance in a democracy, and exposed the possible violation of the fundamental human rights of millions of people worldwide,” the letter read.
“We also believe that this use of national security will have dangerous consequences for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the UK and beyond, creating a hostile and intimidating environment and discouraging those who could reveal uncomfortable truths and hold those in power to account.
“The UK has a strong history of democracy, and while targeted surveillance may play an important role in protecting national security, in doing so it should not erode the very values it seeks to protect.”
GCHQ is already facing legal actions by privacy groups in both UK and European courts.