In an effort to end reporting on the NSA through documents delivered to the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, government officials have (according to the Guardian) destroyed a collection of hard drives in the publications London basement. This event was the apex of a series of meetings that’d taken place between Alan Rusbriger (of the Guardian) and government officials “claiming to represent the views of the prime minister.” It was that first phone call that this representative suggested (about NSA and PRISM stories via Edward Snowden) that “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”
According to Rusbridger, it was the UK government’s intent that, barring the handing over or destruction of the materials given to the Guardian by Snowden, they’d move to restrain the publication from publishing any further stories using the material. This is Prior Restraint, in so many words, and it was “explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK”.
Of course destroying or retrieving the material – digital material, that is – wouldn’t have much of an effect on the Guardian either.
“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.” – Alan Rusbridger
And as “most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York”, while the Guardian itself didn’t have to actually report out of England if it wasn’t allowed, the whole censorship issue should have been for naught, right? Not according to the two GCHQ security experts that reportedly oversaw the destruction of a collection of devices in the basement of the Guardian’s London headquarters.
“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.” – Alan Rusbridger
It’s also true that David Miranda, partner of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, was held under schedule 7 of UK terror laws for nine hours without legal representation. There his laptop, phones, hard drives, and camera were seized (and can be held, according to that terror law, for up to 7 days). Rusbridger assured the public today that neither this seizure nor the destruction of the equipment at the Guardian will have no effect on the publications reporting on the Snowden documents which, of course, are not only housed on one computer.
“Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. …
We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint.” – Alan Rusbridger
Sound about right to you? At what point do you believe the UK officials realized they’d not destroyed these files, only a collection of computers that housed copies of the digital bits and pieces that now live in the internet? Is this the GCHQ Zoolander moment?