UK Gov't Forces Guardian To 'Destroy' Hard Drives With Snowden Info; Guardian Says Reporting Continues From NY

from the freedom-of-the-press? dept

Apparently, the UK government is now hellbent on demonstrating how broadly it will try (and fail) to censor the press these days. By now you’ve heard that the UK government detained David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, under an anti-terrorism law, all as a ruse to seize his electronic media and to intimidate Greenwald. In response, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has revealed some of the pressure he’s received from the UK government for reporting on this story, leading to an absolutely ridiculous situation in which the UK equivalent of the NSA helped the Guardian destroy some physical hard drives for no reason other than that they didn’t want anyone reporting on the leaked Snowden documents from within the UK. The impact on actual reporting, of course, was nil. First came the demands:

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

Got that last bit? You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more. That’s not just obnoxious but it shows the way the intelligence folks are dealing with these revelations: “okay, let some people talk about a little bit, and then shut them up and let’s get back to the spying.” From there, things got even worse, with the UK government basically telling The Guardian they had no choice but to “destroy” the documents:

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK.

If anyone believes in freedom of the press, this should be incredibly important — and the statements by the UK government should be offensive. The government flat out told the paper that it would basically shut down the publication if it didn’t abide by the government’s wishes to destroy key research for reporting and stop its continued efforts to report on these issues of immense importance to the public.

Of course, to anyone who’s in touch with reality knows, banning the reporting of the subject in the UK is both stupid and meaningless. It’s stupid because it’s a “head in the sand” approach to things, which never works. Furthermore, it was only a matter of time until the details of this came out and the UK government was revealed for their thuggish police-state, free press-suppressing ways. And, it’s meaningless because the world is global. The Guardian doesn’t need to report on this stuff from the UK, especially since Greenwald is already based in Brazil.

I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

But, no matter to the government spooks. They demanded a destroyed hard drive, so a destroyed hard drive is what they got:

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Rusbridger notes that this was a particularly “pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age,” but I’d go even further than that. The symbolism of brainless, impotent thuggery for the sake of pure bullying, rather than having any intended impact, says quite a lot about the UK government, the GCHQ, and how far behind the times they are. Rusbridger uses this horrifying story to note that the similar stealing of David Miranda’s technology won’t stop the reporting either — but one hopes that it will lead people in the UK to rise up and speak out against such police-state intimidation tactics, and to demand serious reforms to protect basic freedoms and the value of investigative journalism.

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Comments on “UK Gov't Forces Guardian To 'Destroy' Hard Drives With Snowden Info; Guardian Says Reporting Continues From NY”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Ah desperation...

I can only imagine that either it never occurred to the morons in the government that such a story would go public, or the US is putting serious pressure on the UK to stop the leaks by any means necessary, to such an extent that what promises to be an increasingly massive PR nightmare was seen as the ‘easier’ choice.

Anonymous Coward says:

A moment of comic relief in an otherwise dull day

Truly a face-palm moment for the Whitehall techno-illiteratzi — those misguided assclowns have mistaken the medium that contains the message for the message itself, and in the process created an entirely new, competence-related message that reflects upon them rather badly. I’m of two minds as to whether I should laugh or be appalled at such bumbling attempts at jackbooted thuggery.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree with Hephaestus. This is the lite version and the real damaging programs haven’t been heard about yet. This is what the main concern is.

This has all the hallmarks of the very stuff that turns politics into revolutions. Suddenly you find out your world isn’t what you really thought it was cause there is now proof in front of your eyes that it is not.

What is more worrying for politicians is this is how you get thrown out of office and for spying how budgets and programs get cut while limiting what can be done legally is changed.

I think the shit storm is just starting and they are afraid, very afraid, that what they’ve been doing could likely come to light and there be hell to pay for it.

out_of_the_blue says:

Does this not say "limited hangout"?

“You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.” — They wanted it out so even dolts will know that they’re under constant surveillance, but not enough to make the people rise up and END this tyranny.

Only problem I have with this piece is that “thuggery” is too good a word to describe modern enforcers: implies some thought and finesse, but they’re now just attack dogs that obey orders without question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They were specifically aware that there were copies elsewhere but still felt the need to have the drives destroyed to be able to say to the US that no reporting of Snowden leaks were happening in the UK.

It’s like an abused wife trying to keep her abusive partner happy, and just as pointless.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

Not only do they still have the data backed up, probably in various locations, but Snowden definitely has all of it as well. So in the end, all that the UK government proved is that they’re extremists who will sink to any low, even threatening the press, in order to cover up nefarious activity.

At this point, the only difference between governments and terrorists is that the latter violates people’s rights with impunity.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

At this point, the only difference between governments and terrorists is that the latter violates people’s rights with impunity.

Yeah, until I see some high ranking officials in jail or at least in court over the actions that have been exposed and brought to light, I’m going to have to say that both groups are able to act with impunity.

Anonymous Coward says:

"You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

Jesus, that sounded like a line spewed by a Hollywood B-movie card-carrying villain. They are not even trying anymore. If this was fiction, I would be asking “Who writes this crap?”

Not to mention that this hard-drive destroying plot is only a small step up from “Computer Equals Monitor” – in this case, hard disk equals data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rusbridger notes that this was a particularly “pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age,”

Except that it is absolutely NOT a pointless piece of symbolism. It is all about control at this point, and ANY form of acquiescence is a tacit admission of willingness to give up our freedoms.

As I pointed out somewhere in a story a few days ago in a story about Lavabit shutting down and that larger companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft didn’t always have the luxury of making a moral stand: morality and ethics are NOT luxuries. You either have them, and are willing to face whatever consequences result from those choices or you do not.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

Bravo. Either you take a stand for liberty and justice or you cower in fear and complacency while the state stomps all over your rights. It is the hallmark of the totalitarian state to use threats, intimidation and even violence in an attempt to keep everyone in check. If the populace refuses to submit to force, the state is powerless, because all governing bodies derive power from the people — or more specifically, their obedience.

jeh says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just imagine if Google took a stand, if they even blacked out their services for one day in protest of the NSA. It’d send ripples the world over that no one could ignore. To bad they haven’t got the man pellets to do it.

The sad thing is, these leaks are already hurting their business. Have they really got so much to loose? If they took that stand though, it’d probably go a long way to repair their reputation with the world. Long term, it’d be a great move.

Do no evil, right? So why don’t they show it? They may not commit the crimes, but they, and other large tech companies, allow it to happen without so much protest. What protest they give is only skin deep, if even that.

The telecommunication companies though, trash. Vile and despicable. If the leaks didn’t show that, surely their business practices have. They’re hotly anti-consumer. If there wasn’t regulations in place, they’d run wild pilfering the wallets of people the world over. I’m sure they’d trade their customer’s souls if it meant they could get a little extra cash in their bank accounts. Teamed up with the NSA, it seems they’re already on their way to putting that deal into place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow. The Snowden leaks, Greenwald’s reporting, the lies to the public by government officials, and now these thuggish actions by British agents make me feel like I’ve stumbled into an alternate time line of existence. If nothing else the last few months have crushed my naive belief that the contemporary world has learned at all from historical transgressions on human rights and civil liberties.

Anonymous Coward says:

GCHQ is cracking under pressure from their pimps at the NSA. I believe the illegal theft of David Miranda personal property, is due to the NSA trying to figure out what documents Edward Snowden downloaded.

The NSA most likely would like to know about these documents, in order to be able to lie in public without having the truth thrown back in their face shortly afterwards.

I hope Greenwald hired or is consulting with a cryptographic expert. I hope he realizes that user passwords are the weak link during the encryption process. Not the encryption ciphers themselves.

I hope he’s using at least 128 character long passwords. If not longer. Plus using a proper mixture of upper and lower case characters, plus special characters and numbers.

In other words, the only secure password is one you cannot remember.

Otherwise the NSA will crack his passwords like a hot knife through butter.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

The hard drives contained nothing.

Pure symbolism, on the part of the Guardian, because even if those poor mangled hard drives contained anything, it would have been impossible for anyone to get anything from them. I would guess that the Guardian, knowing the next step, probably had them wiped clean and thoroughly. A good solid magnet usually does the trick.

Stupid government. They should have gotten a court order demanding the hard drives intact so they could have read them..but no, must destroy the beast! Must kill the technology that created it!

Elsewhere, people are laughing: “I guess we showed them! We still have the information!”

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

This is getting fucking ridiculous now. The UK gets more and more like Iran/Syria/North Korea every day and yet they have the audacity to go on and on about the various violations in those countries.

We need to get these corrupt and incompetent politicians out ASAP and vote in someone truly liberal who feels strongly about freedom of the press and the right to privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bond, James Bond

So much for Spies and Secret agents as Heroes.

All these years you identify with the secret agents being the good guy and fighting evil around the world and now we’re finding out that THEY are the evil ones and we are the ones they want to destroy. This is the freedom that our men and women in the military are dying for?

Talk about betrayal…No more Bond movies for me.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Bond, James Bond

Oh, it’s much worse than that. Here in the US, all over network television they have shows which glorify law enforcement. They love to depict the state and federal agencies as benevolent heroes, involved in extreme situations so fictitious, yet presented as if common occurrance, that are beyond absurd. Because as we all know, every criminal just so happens to be a terror mastermind who’s plotting against the state. The idea is obviously to hammer it into the public psyche that the state is always good and that our country is crawling with terrorists.

Disgusted (profile) says:

Follow The Money

All of these programs, the spying, the data interception and things like the new NSA storage farm in Utah, cost a ton of money for hardware, facilities and personnel. Who pays for it? It’s not just the UK and the US. It’s world wide. More importantly, who gets the contracts and the money? How much are we talking about? Hundreds of Millions? Billions? Trillions? Of course they don’t want this revealed. It’s gonna end up costing them a bundle if it gets shut down, so a (very) small percentage of it goes back to the politicians who approve funding. Everyone has their hands out, and no one wants to lose out on the gold rush.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good Golly, where do you get your education? Why should any government allow a news media outlet to possess information illegally leaked and at the very least containing sensitive data if not outright detrimental to national security? You are going to trust the media to fire back upon the real enemies of the US and her Allies should they ever launch an all out attack on the people of the free world?

Anonymous Coward says:

“You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”

Yes I’m sure he’s having tons of fun on reporting on wide scale abuse that will ensure 2013 will be considered one of the darkest years in American history.

So whoever made that call I can say this –
You assholes have forever tarnished American pride.

Anonymous Coward says:

Superinjunction / Pointy-Haired Bosses of Whitehall

It is entirely possible that the Guardian did contest the issue in court, lost, and is legally prohibited from reporting about their loss. Alternatively, they may have decided that allowing the UK security forces to play games would (a) have no effect on their reporting and (b) get the pointy-haired bosses of Whitehall to leave the Guardian alone.

PS: “Pointy-Haired Bosses of Whitehall” might be a pretty good name for a band.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Superinjunction / Pointy-Haired Bosses of Whitehall

Keep on smoking whatever you’re smoking.. This news agency, if they are in fact a real news agency, had classified data that was obtained through illegal means of a leak by a traitor of the people who couldn’t possible know the limits of damage to the free world he caused, much less contain it. Now, do you want to rely on the Guardian for your national security?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Superinjunction / Pointy-Haired Bosses of Whitehall

As opposed to the ever so trustworthy government? Damn right I’d trust them more, I’d trust a random person on the street with information like that more than the government because the government is not trustworthy, something they have proven time and time again, especially recently, with all the lies they’ve been caught out on.

You might want to make sure your autocorrect is working too, it seems to have problems with ‘whistleblower’/’hero’, changing the words to ‘traitor’. The only people hurt by the leaks are the criminals violating laws and then lying about it to the public, Snowden’s actions have shown him to be anything but a ‘traitor of the people’.

Also I do so love the ever so blatant ad-hom of ‘If they are in fact a real news agency’, nothing like trying to discredit your opponent by insinuations of untrustworthiness and a lack of credibility. Had you done even the basest level of research, you’d know that the newspaper in question is close to two centuries old, and is currently the second most popular newspaper in the UK online.

Anonymous Coward says:

apart from the obvious, one extremely important comment that is made, shows exactly the sort of country the UK has become and exactly what the present government thinks of the laws and of the people. the ‘police-state intimidation tactics’ shows how far the UK has sunk. it has fallen from being a country that valued freedom and privacy to one that is falling in behind the USA, following the same degrading route and the same treatment of it’s citizens. the problem is that no one cares about it until it lands on their doorstep. the UK citizen always thinks it is happening to someone else, somewhere else. eventually, when it dawns on then how close it is and how serious it is, that is the time to be very wary. that is the time when the people are at their most dangerous and their least forgiving!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The enemies of the free world are militant and ruthless. They will stop at nothing to skewer you and me, roast us up over a fire and throw some livers on the bbq.

Sure it sucks that you can’t hardly have a friendly conversation with the proactive police anymore being civilian, but the days of Barney Fife are sadly over in this modern dangerous world. The friendly cop walking the beat in his local neighborhood is a nostalgic reminiscent era gone by. It is a neccessary evil to have the police forces in this mode because of the enemy within our borders is really within our borders. Rock Solid Warriors are what this world needs, fighting for the good side. What side are you on? The lines have already been drawn.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

‘skewer you and me’ ‘roast us up’…

Wait a tic, are you the individual that was commenting on an earlier article, posting such camp-fire level horror stories about the ‘big bad men coming to kill you’?

Seriously, we’re grown men and women here, such sad attempts at fear-mongering is going to do nothing more than get a laugh out of those reading your comments.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is a neccessary evil to have the police forces in this mode because of the enemy within our borders is really within our borders.

Unless there is some proof otherwise, this must be classified as unmitigated bullshit.

Are there evil people on the loose? Absolutely. But that’s not some kind of new thing. What’s new is that the police have become the military.

What side are you on?

I am on the side of what’s right. I am on the side of the people. I fear that this isn’t the same side as many law enforcement agencies.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Memories of the English Civil War

One of the set-pieces of English school-history, their equivalent of _The Signing of the Declaration of Independence_ or _Washington Crossing the Delaware_, is the picture of Charles I invading the houses of parliament, with his troops, seeking to arrest five members of parliament. Not finding the members, Charles asks of Speaker Lenthall where they are. Lenthall replies, “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”.

Look at the picture. (“Speaker Lenthall Asserting the Privileges of the Commons Against Charles I when the Attempt was made to Seize the Five Members.” by Charles West Cope, 1866). The picture is of course somewhat a-historical, like all school-history, produced at a time, two hundred years after the fact, when compulsory education and progressively universal suffrage were being instituted. Note the arrogant sneering face. As it developed, Charles’ future led to the Battle of Naseby, and to a scaffold outside Whitehall.

Of course, what the Guardian is doing is deliberately entrapping Prime Minister David Cameron to re-enact the role of Charles, to let all men know that he thinks he is King of England. King David the First! All hail, David the First! But of course he will find his Cromwell in time. I grant that David Cameron has a certain animal cunning, but he is really a rather stupid man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Memories of the English Civil War

“Great” Britain doesn’t stand a chance if the entire population’s view of their leaders is as derogating as this commentor’s view. Not saying one shouldn’t have the right to his or her opinion(s), but sounds like this guy is picking a fight in the school yard.

Anonymous Coward says:

One thing for sure!

If the Guardian releases any more documents from this ‘set’ they are screwed.

They no doubt would have had to convince the security that were the only copies, and if that was a lie, that in itself is a crime.

So if the Guardian releases any more of the documents, they are screwed and have lied.

So it’s stopped the Guardian from releasing any further documents leaked to them by Snowden.

Right or wrong, it’s effective !

Lisa Simeone (profile) says:

Fascism 101

It’s not just people in the UK who need to “rise up and speak out against such police-state intimidation tactics, and to demand serious reforms to protect basic freedoms and the value of investigative journalism.” It’s Americans, too.

We’ve done the same thuggish things the Brits have. Just ask Laura Poitras. Or Jacob Applebaum. Or David House. Or any number of other American citizens who’ve been detained at the border, trying to re-enter their own country, and who’ve been harassed (oops, I mean “interrogated”) for hours, and their property stolen (oops, “confiscated”) and destroyed.

Anonymous Coward says:

A Good Ally

Of course, to anyone who’s in touch with reality knows, banning the reporting of the subject in the UK is both stupid and meaningless. It’s stupid because it’s a “head in the sand” approach..

Imagine for a moment that half the world didn’t hate the US Government and that all the world didn’t fear or mistrust it whether or not justifiably. Imagine that the US was kinder and gentler in its approach to its sovereignty and world relations. Imagine that the governments around the world were not adversarily trying to gain every possible advantage in its quest to survive against its tremendous power.

It would still be most reassuring to see this action of the eradication of these hard-drives which might contain data in which an adversary could gain some edge over the US and its allies. This coming from the UK, and believing its with no illicit mistrust with its intentions or motivations seems to be very reasonable in all reality. Since when does anyone or any government rely on news gathering and reporting agencies nowadays for containing and safeguarding its national security?

th (profile) says:

Uk has always had preemptive powers over press

THe UK has always maintained preemptive powers over the press as a matter of law. I remember something about Princess Diana was going to be printed and the govt. was able to prevent its publication in the UK while at the same time in the US, some TV something involving Elizabeth Taylor was going to air and she was unable to stop it or sue until after it had aired. The two cases were contrasted in the media and used to illustrate the difference between the UK’s system and our own.

What the UK can do to publishers really rubs us the wrong way and the first time you hear about it, it’s shocking. just the way it is there. Fully agreed that the reaction was counter productive wrt to whatever the UK was trying to achieve.

The degree of hamfistedness that’s been displayed by the authorities surprises me. You expect that they expect that one day they’ll have to deal with exactly this leak- revealing the degree to which they capture and process internet traffic. It now seems as if they thought such a leak could just never happen and have been caught completely flatfooted and dumbfounded.


They could have resisted and taken it to court, instead they gave it up like cowards.

The thing that angers me the most about all of this is that the Guardian conceded. They should have took them to bat, told them to go fuck themselves, and then let them take them to court and have it out in the high court. That’s where things like this have a chance to influence the law, and that is where ‘freedom of the press’ first came from; people refusing to back down, copping the charges, appealing the charges, and winning.

If you’re too scared to cop the charges you can NEVER appeal the charge to argue against the statute. The Guardian should definitely have instead published every single document in an encrypted file on every website they own and told the government if they don’t back off they’ll leak the password.

When you are dealing with governments that have gone corrupt you are dealing with their top end security and intelligence professionals. If you’re not on your A-game and know how to play the game right back with them, nor know how to use security blankets, employ the use of kites, or double agent by having an agent of the company pretend to turn informer while playing the intelligence department then you’re useless as tits on a bull frankly.

Instead of doing any of that–being things that would change the law in the UK, protect journalists across the Commonwealth from abuse of power of corrupt governments, and force the world to start stepping up and reining our governments in before they become completely totalitarian (and it seems that’s getting closer every day)–they decided to be cowards and let them smash their hardware. They didn’t even call into question the instructions themselves, or publish an article of “MI5; do you guys even USE computers?” humiliating them for thinking physically damaging hardware alters data or destroys data.

Instead they just bent over, grabbed their ankles, and took it.

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