The summer break did not put an end to the scandal caused by revelations of a US spy programme better known as PRISM. While the obsession with Edward Snowden’s whereabouts continued to occupy news all over the world, a twist in the story emerged from the same country that first broke the news on PRISM, the United Kingdom.
According to reports in the British press, the Guardian newspaper has been facing pressure from the UK government to limit revelations on the PRISM programme. It appears that the government threatened legal action against the Guardian newspaper if it continues to run stories based on documents leaked by Snowden.
In response to these threats the Guardian staff destroyed classified data and computer hard drives at the offices of the newspaper on 20 July.
But not all has been gone. Editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, Alan Rusbridger, ensured that copies of the information from the computers are held elsewhere.
As if this episode was not controversial enough, on 19 August top headlines reported that security officials detained at Heathrow Airport David Miranda, the partner of the American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been instrumental in breaking the story on PRISM.
Mr. Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained under the UK’s Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and question passengers travelling through airports and ports to determine whether they are involved in planning terrorist acts.
He was later released, yet his laptop, telephone, computer hard drive and memory sticks were compensated at the arrest.
This developing story sparked outrage across Europe with editors of several northern European newspapers, as well as the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) writing open letters to Mr Cameron to express their concern on the matter. Also my group leader of the S&D, Mr Swoboda, described the intimidation and pressure as “disgraceful” and called on the UK government to uphold the values of freedom of expression, information and media.
I have previously written about the tensions surrounding the press in the UK, especially after the phone-hacking scandal, which paved the way to the Lewiston inquiry and recommendations to create a new regulatory regime of the press.
In my views, free press in the UK has many elements. It is the paparazzi, who will often go to extreme to get a story or a picture, and it is also the serious press that has the democratic responsibility to scrutinize policies and hold government and intelligence agencies to accountability. This element must be protected.
The EU has always protested when similar threats to the freedom of the media were made by countries in the EU (like in Hungary), or overseas (a rather longer list of countries…). According to the same standards the UK must be held to the same principles we ask other EU members, allies and friends.
Greetings from the European Parliament,
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
PS- Threats to media freedom and surveillance of citizens (the Miranda case) will be debated tomorrow evening (10/9) in our plenary session in Strasbourg. You can follow it live: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/schedule