Dear Prime Minister,
We have joined together as an international coalition of free speech, media freedom and human rights organisations because we believe that the United Kingdom government's response to the revelations of masssurveillance of digital communications is eroding fundamental human rights in the country. The government's response has been to condemn, rather than celebrate, investigative journalism, which plays a crucial role in a healthy democratic society.
We are alarmed at the way in which the UK government has reacted, using national security legislation against those who have helped bring this public interest information to global attention. We are concerned about:
• The use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain the Brazilian media worker, David Miranda on 18 August 2013 at London Heathrow Airport. Miranda was carrying journalistic material on behalf of the UK's Guardian newspaper and is the partner of the journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of mass surveillance of digital communications by the UK and USA
• The sustained pressure against the UK's Guardian newspaper for reporting the disclosures of whistleblower, Edward Snowden, including sending officials to force the Guardian to destroy hard drives allegedly containing information from Snowden
• Your call on 16 October 2013 for a House of Commons Select Committee to review whether the Guardian has damaged national security by publishing material provided by Edward Snowden, and a subsequent announcement that the review will be conducted by the Home Affairs Select Committee as part of their inquiry into anti-terrorism.
We believe these actions clearly violate the right to freedom of expression, which is protected under British, European and international law. Under such laws, the right to freedom of expression includes the protection of both journalists, and those that assist them in the course of their vital work.
The right to freedom of expression and media freedom enable the free flow of information in order for the public to hold their governments to account. While the protection of national security can be a legitimate ground for restricting the right under international law, such restrictions are narrowly defined. Governments must show that a restriction is necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose and must be proportionate to the aim pursued. The presumption in favour of freedom of expression requires governments to demonstrate that the expression will actually harm national security; it is not sufficient to simply say that it will.
National security should never be used to justify preventing disclosures of illegalities or wrongdoing, no matter how embarrassing such disclosures may be to the UK or other governments. In the case of Snowden and the Guardian, the disclosures have facilitated a much-needed public debate about mass surveillance in a democracy, and exposed the possible violation of the fundamental human rights of millions of people worldwide. As such, no liability should be incurred as the benefit to the public outweighs the demonstrable harm to national security.
We also believe that this use of national security will have dangerous consequences for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the UK and beyond, creating a hostile and intimidating environment and discouraging those who could reveal uncomfortable truths and hold those in power to account. We are concerned that this will further create negative consequences for the reputation of the UK as an advocate for the protection and realisation of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom worldwide. States with little regard for the human rights of their people will seek to use the UK's example to legitimise their own repressive practices.
The UK has a strong history of democracy, and while targeted surveillance may play an important role in protecting national security, in doing so it should not erode the very values it seeks to protect. We call on you to honour the UK's international obligations to defend and protect the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, and to end the UK government's pressure on the Guardian and those who assist them.
Apparently it's signed by 70 international human rights organisations. What do you guys make of all this?