By Angela Haggerty
Questions are mounting for the UK government after Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed the paper was forced to destroy hard drives containing leaked material from US whistleblower Edward Snowden to prevent the British Government seizing it.
Rusbridger said the paper was contacted by the country’s most senior civil servant – subsequently named as Sir Jeremy Heywood – on the orders of Prime Minister David Cameron following the Snowden revelations about US and UK spying and surveillance tactics.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague backed the Prime Minister’s decision.
He said he was told during the call: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” Rusbridger added that meetings with Whitehall officials confirmed the Government’s intention to pursue the paper through legal channels in an effort to gain possession of the Snowden material.
The Guardian subsequently took the decision to destroy the information to prevent it falling into the hands of the state and sought advice from GCHQ intelligence experts about “which bits of the hard drive to smash up, in what way”.
However, Government officials stood firm on the moves and said it was the duty of the state to ensure classified information did not end up in “the wrong hands”.
The news comes just days after the detention of David Miranda – partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story – for nine hours at Heathrow Airport under schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Mr Greenwald described the incident as a “profound escalation of their attacks on the news gathering process and journalism”.
The US government admitted being given a “heads up” by UK officials that Miranda was in custody but said the decision had been made entirely by the British. Home Secretary Theresa May has denied the detention was made on government orders and claimed it was solely a police decision.
However, the Government has faced heavy criticism over the use of terrorism legislation to detain Miranda. Former Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Lord Falconer, strongly criticised the use of the terrorism act in Miranda’s case.
In a blog for the Guardian, he said: “There is no suggestion that Miranda is a terrorist, or that his detention and questioning at Heathrow was for any other reason than his involvement in his partner Glenn Greenwald’s reporting of the Edward Snowden story. The state has not even hinted there is a justification beyond that involvement.
“The state may wish that journalists would not publish sensitive material, but it is up to journalists, not the state, to decide where to draw the line. If the state contends a person holds information unlawfully there are a range of powers it can use to restrain its use, though they are all subject to legal limitations. The schedule 7 power is not given to restrain the use of information.”
It’s understood Miranda intends to launch legal action after his laptop, mobile phone, DVDs and memory sticks were seized by UK officials.