Is Embarrassing the Government Terrorism? British Politicians Think So.

Alan RusbridgerIf you aren’t already thankful
for the existence of the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution, and the fact that it’s not as badly eroded as some
other parts of that document, watching a newspaper editor squirm
under the questioning of a parliamentary committee because his
publication was among several that revealed information they find
inconvenient should make you so. That’s the ordeal Alan Rusbridger
(pictured at right,
being grilled
), editor of The Guardian, suffered in
Great Britain—and ultimately, he and his colleages have been
threatened with prosecution for violating anti-terrorism laws
because they published details
of domestic and international spying by the National Security
Agency and Britain’s GCHQ

Video of Rusbridger’s testimony is available
at the Website of
the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. In it (you may have to
have some patience, as it keeps stalling for me) you can see not
just Rusbridger’s judgment being questioned, but also his

Such concerns have
been raised
American politicians
, of course, but editors at the
Washington Post, which also published revelations about
NSA surveillance derived from Edward Snowden, have yet to be called
before Congress to answer for their effrontery in telling about the
government’s repellent and intrusive activities. It’s unlikely,
still, that Congress could get away with doing any such thing,
since press freedom in this country continues to enjoy a level of
legal protection not shared even in other “free” countries. In
fact, Rusbridger points out in his testimony that what he’s
suffering in his own country couldn’t happen in the U.S.

Ultimately, as
Reuters reports
, committee members threatened to invoke laws
against aiding terrorists.

Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who heads London’s
Specialist Operations unit, told lawmakers the police were looking
to see whether any offences had been committed, following the brief
detention in August of a man carrying data on behalf of a Guardian
journalist. …

Lawmakers put it to Rusbridger that he had committed an offence
under Section 58A of the Terrorism Act which says it is a crime to
publish or communicate any information about members of the armed
forces or intelligence services.

“It isn’t only about what you’ve published, it’s about what
you’ve communicated. That is what amounts, or can amount, to a
criminal offence,” said committee member Michael Ellis.

Asked later by Ellis whether detectives were considering Section
58A offences, Dick said: “Yes, indeed we are looking at that.”

, if you’re curious, says:

A person commits an offence if—

(a)he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely
to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of
terrorism, or

(b)he possesses a document or record containing information of
that kind.

Violating that law carries up to ten years in prison, upon
conviction (or six months, upon a fast-track summary

In reality, though, the grilling by lawmakers and threats by
police are punishments in themselves. Many British journalists will
have this sort of treatment in mind when they consider
government-embarrassing stories in the future.

Which, no doubt, is the whole point of the process.

Note, by the way, that The Guardian
supports government press regulation
. Maybe Rusbridger and
company will rethink that position.

from Hit & Run

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