British police have launched an investigation into whether the Guardian committed “potential” terrorism offenses by publishing the incriminating NSA and GCHQ documents leaked earlier this year by Edward Snowden.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the British paper, was testifying in front of a British parliamentary committee Tuesday when lawmakers suggested that the Guardian had helped terrorists by revealing the clandestine activity conducted by the American and British intelligence agencies.
Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Cressida Dick told the MPs Tuesday that is appears “possible that some people may have committed offenses” in connection with the material seized from David Miranda’s laptop earlier this year. Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, was detained for hours at London’s Heathrow Airport and authorities confiscated his computer, cell phone, and other devices, some of which allegedly held material related to Snowden’s disclosures.
UK officials claim that Snowden’s trove of data included information about British spies and that the information’s publication puts lives in direct danger. Rusbridger said his paper would not publish any such information and that Guardian editors have not even looked at some of the information Snowden provided regarding the Iraq war.
Lawmakers also threatened Rusbridger by implying Guardian staff had violated Section 58A of the Terrorism Act, which stipulates that it is against the law to publish or even transmit any information regarding members of the armed forces or intelligence employees.
“It isn’t only about what you’ve published, it’s about what you’ve communicated,” committee member Michael Ellis said. “That is what amounts, or can amount, to a criminal offense.”
Ellis later asked assistant commissioner Dick if investigators were also looking into possible infractions under Section 58A.
“Yes, we are indeed looking at that,” she said. “We need to establish whether they have or they haven’t.”
British authorities have previously raided the Guardian’s London office and destroyed hard drives that Rusbridger said contained documents that had already been sent to the paper’s New York office.
Rusbridger has consistently defended his legal and moral right to publish the documents, saying the government activity they detail should be left up to the public. The ongoing series of articles has revealed that the US, UK, and a number of other countries monitor phone, email, and social media activity of citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing.
“We have published I think 26 documents out of the 58,000 we’ve seen, or 58,000 plus. So we have made very selective judgments about what to print,” the editor said. “We have published no names and we have lost control of no names.”
Critics have already compared the MPs line of questioning to the infamous anti-communism hearings conducted by US Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of the Cold War. Writing in the Guardian, Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, said Tuesday’s hearing was disheartening for those hoping for less surveillance in the future.
“The astonishing suggestion that this sort of journalism can be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” he wrote. “Attacking the Guardian is an attempt to do the bidding of the services themselves, by distracting attention from the real issues. It is the roles of a free press to hold government to account, and yet there have even been outrageous suggestions from some conservative MPs that the Guardian should face a criminal investigation.”