U.K. Debates Risks to Press Freedom After Detention of Guardian Journalist's Partner

Edward Snowden

News that the British paper was forced to destroy computer data also raises fresh concerns in a discussion that started with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks.

LONDON – The revelations that The Guardian newspaper had been coerced into destroying computer hard drives relating to the paper's own articles about state surveillance in light of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks created waves across the British media.

Coupled with the fallout that the paper's correspondent Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda had been detained for nine hours at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act, the story lit up headlines and set telephone lines a-chatter on radio and TV phone-in shows alike.

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Greenwald is the reporter who has broken most of the stories about state surveillance based on the leaks from Snowden.

The topics of detainment and the destruction of The Guardian's computer equipment was discussed across the BBC's network of TV and radio shows and sparked other stories on Sky News, Channel 4 news and ITV among others.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote an article describing "one of the most bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history' that saw security experts from the U.K.'s GCHQ intelligence agency oversee the destruction of the newspaper's hard drives in its basement.

Rusbridger described U.K. government representatives suggesting that the full force of the law would have been used to force his newspaper to give up the information.

The chief executive of Index on censorship, Kirsty Hughes, described using the threat of legal action to force a newspaper into destroying material as "a direct attack on press freedom in the U.K."

Said Hughes: "It is unclear which laws would have been used to force The Guardian to hand over its material, but it is clear that the Snowden and NSA story is strongly in the public interest. Coming on the back of the detention of David Miranda, it seems that the U.K. government is using, and quite likely misusing, laws to intimidate journalists and silence its critics."

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The media all carried the news on Tuesday that the British government said it had a duty to protect the public as it strove to dampen the outcry caused by Miranda's detention.

According to the BBC, Sky News and other news outlets, the Home Office said the police have to act if they believe an individual has "highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism."

The BBC and The Guardian also posted stories that the White House had been given a "heads up" before Miranda was taken into custody for nine hours of questioning on his way back to Rio de Janeiro where he lives with Greenwald.

U.K. tabloid newspaper The Mirror carried an opinion piece by civil rights group Liberty's chief, Shami Chakrabarti, describing the power of the Terrorism Act as "broad and poisonous" in light of Miranda's detention.