Dear Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP,
Index on Censorship is writing to you ahead of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee’s hearing on counter terrorism.
We believe that the Guardian’s publication of details of GCHQ’s digital surveillance techniques has been very much in the public interest.
Mass data retention and monitoring is a hugely important issue. As more and more of our lives are lived online, it is only right that British people should know how and why the security services gather and monitor digital information. We should be able to debate whether the security services are acting legitimately, legally and proportionately, or are going beyond what is suitable and proper in any democratic, rights-based society. The Guardian’s revelations should be the beginning of a public debate on how this work is done, and with what oversights.
We are concerned that rather than a debate being opened up, the focus has instead been on criticising the Guardian’s work, with even the Prime Minister threatening to take action against the newspaper if it did not take social responsibility. Index on Censorship maintains that the Guardian has shown great social responsibility in investigating, reporting and publishing the details of this story, having maintained open communication with security services and the DA Notice committee.
The Guardian has also lived up to the responsibility of a free press to reveal facts and issues of interest to the public. A British newspaper should be able to report on these issues without fear of retribution. But comments made by politicians and the security services made have led many round the world to question Britain’s commitment to press freedom. For example, the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists rightly pointed out that: Governments around the world look to the UK as a model for media policies, but in this case, Cameron seems to be taking a page from the book of less enlightened governments that invoke ‘social responsibility’ to ward off valid criticism.
Finally, Index on Censorship is troubled by the use of counter-terror measures to detain David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. We believe the use of terror legislation to obtain journalistic materials, without court oversight, is a threat to free expression and to anyone involved in journalism. As part of a coalition of newspapers, journalists organisations and campaigners which submitted an intervention to the judicial review of Mr Miranda’s detention at Heathrow airport, we are concerned that using Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 against people engaged in journalistic activities runs a real risk of conflating journalism–particularly journalism investigating the intelligence services–with terrorism.
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive
Index on Censorship