British Prime Minister David Cameron warned on Monday that the UK may take legal action to prevent the Guardian from publishing new information about the National Security Agency, in a speech that argued the newspaper “is helping our enemies.”
On Thursday, Tory member of parliament Julian Smith took that accusation further by accusing the paper of treason, even as he admitted it had the right to report on the issue.
“The Guardian, which had every right to report on this issue, which has raised important topics of debate, which has done so in a digital, global way and an interesting way, and with good journalism, has threatened the security of this country and today stands guilty potentially of treasonous behavior,” Smith said. In a debate on whether police should prosecute, Smith claimed the paper did not heed the government’s advice before publishing its stories and did not reveal exactly what data it has obtained.
Cameron has not argued for prosecution but did mention in a speech Monday, “I don’t want to have to use injunctions or D notices [issued when the UK government wants to prevent the media from reporting something for national security reasons] or the other tougher measures.” Cameron preferred to appeal to journalists’ “sense of social responsibility,” and referred to the Guardian’s move to destroy its original hard drives when faced with pressure from officials.
The Guardian has responded to Smith with the statement, “When responsible journalists working on the same story share documents they are engaged in journalism, not terrorism.”
Through documents obtained from Edward Snowden, the world has learned that the NSA and British surveillance activities were much more widespread than previously known, including a program that collects digital data from tech giants. However, the NSA has disputed some reports. For instance, it called reporting on phone surveillance of millions of French citizens and spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel misleading and false.
British media are governed by more restrictive press laws than in the U.S, including security restrictions and defamation laws that redefine the nature of a free press. In a recent interview, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson doubted some claimed that what journalists have published on the NSA has endangered security and was not in the public’s interest, and called the Guardian’s need to destroy its computers “unfortunate.” Other papers have published information based on the NSA leak, too, from the Washington Post to the New York Times, have published NSA stories based on the Snowden leak.