US not hounding Snowden leaks journalists like Britain

The UK uses its terror laws to intimidate journalists involved in reporting Snowden documents in a way not even the United States does, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group tells RT.

He lauded the fact that the case of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda will unravel in open court, so it can be challenged properly. As Miranda’s court case against the British government is due to start next week, he is now facing fresh charges of espionage and endangering British national safety. Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport at the end of August for 9 hours, while in transit, and had the leaked Snowden documents confiscated from him. 

RT:Don’t the UK authorities have every right to apprehend somebody whose carrying thousands of leaked documents, which are deemed to be harmful to the country’s national security?

Jim Killock: No, I don’t think they do have that right. At the end of the day what they’ve actually said is that this bloke is a threat to national security because he may be involved in disclosing information about national security. And because he’s doing that from a political or ideological motive, it equates with a definition of terrorism. So they are actually saying this bloke is a terrorist and that’s why they are able to arrest him under terrorist laws and I think that’s absolutely insane. It’s equating the journalistic practice of tasking leaked documents and looking at them and potentially telling the public about certain things in it with terrorism - you can’t do that. 

RT:And do you think this accusation of terrorism will affect his legal challenge then? What sort of impact could that have on his case? 

JK: I don’t know precisely what the impact of this on the case is, but I think these are the grounds that the state says, the police says, they arrested him and detained him for. I think that’s extremely wide and I think it’s extremely important that we look at how the police are willing to frame their use of terrorist laws, I think it’s an argument for the repeal of those laws.  

RT:And these are quite strong accusations, obviously as you’re saying. Why are we hearing about it now, when obviously he was apprehended quite a long time ago? 

JK: Because he’s appealed, because this is now a matter that they’re looking at in the court and people are saying the police should not have done this, police have to justify themselves to the courts and that’s why we’re seeing what they’ve done. Great, at least we’ve got this in open court and we can see what’s going on. We can challenge it. I think we’ve been seeing in the UK for many, many years terrorist laws being written in ways that could be abused, the governments of the day have always said: “No, no they won’t possibly abuse them. Of course these laws will only ever be used against terrorists.” And here we see somebody with leaked material whose being very responsible, his partner David Miranda and the Guardian have been extremely responsible in the handling of this material. Nobody has been able to say, “here, you’ve endangered national security! Genuinely people have their lives at risk.” Nobody has been able to show that, there have been accusations, but there’s been nobody actually saying that’s happened. So instead what we’ve got is the police abusing their powers in order to intimidate these people, and I think it’s good that we’re seeing this going on because now we can challenge it properly. 

RT:Glen Greenwald has now accused the UK of having no press freedom, that’s not true is it, that’s just going a bit too far, isn’t it?

JK: I think it would be wrong to say there is no press freedom, of course that would be overstating the case but if you intimidate journalists in this way, if you say they can’t look at leaked documents, they’re not allowed to handle material that’s sensitive, they’re not allowed to make journalistic judgments about when to publish, that is the effect of what you’re doing if you’re saying you’re going to arrest people under terrorist powers, merely for possessing this information. In that case you are limiting the ability of the press to speak out because you are saying, “if you do those things you’ll get arrested.” 

RT:But surely secrecy and the boundaries of law have to be respected, just how open should governments be, until they do actually compromise national safety? 

JK: I think the US has got the right balance here, surprisingly you’d think the US would now be chasing down all the papers and trying to stop all the people who have been handling these documents - they’re not. They’re not going into the Washington Post and trying to persuade them to destroy hard drives. They just simply are not trying to take those actions and that’s because their understanding of the balance is that – it’s a person who has leaked material, who is potentially in breach of laws, it isn’t the journalists, the journalists have a right to publish; their free speech is extremely important, they’re not the people who are potentially guilty of crimes. That said, the way they have pursued whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, has been disgraceful, so it’s not to say that everything is right about the United States but at least in their approach to journalists they haven’t attempted to persecute them.