The European Commission has declined to comment on whether pressure exerted by UK authorities on the Guardian newspaper to destroy sensitive documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden constituted an attack on media freedom.
Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that a US intelligence agency had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data, saying such activity confirmed their fears about the reach of the government and American web giants and showed that tighter regulations were needed just as the EU and US are about to launch trade talks.
A spokesperson for Viviane Reding, the European Commission Vice President responsible for Justice and Fundamental Rights, avoided questions on the issue at the EU executive's daily press briefing on Tuesday (20 August).
“With regard to media freedom […] the Commission stands for media freedom and there is even an expert group”, said Mina Andreeva, spokesperson for Viviane Reding.
Andreeva added that the Commission could not comment on the application of national security legislation. “I don’t have any particular comment to make,” she said.
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian newspaper which spearheaded revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, revealed in a column yesterday that the British authorities forced his newspaper to destroy material leaked by the former CIA employee whose revelations uncovered a massive American eavesdropping programme that shocked the world and triggered angry European reactions.
David Miranda - the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the leading Guardian journalist who wrote articles based on Snowden's leaked documents - was also detained in a “bizarre” way at London's Heathrow airport on Sunday, Rusbriger said, in what British newspapers portrayed as an intimidation attempt on the media.
Rusbridger wrote that a month ago a British official advised him to stop publishing news articles based on Snowden's leaked material. "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back," he quoted the official as saying.
The Guardian editor said the paper was threatened with legal action by the government unless it destroyed or handed over the material from Snowden.
After further talks with the government, two "security experts" from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the US National Security Agency, visited the Guardian's London offices and oversaw the destruction of computers which had contained material provided by Snowden.
On Sunday, London's Metropolitan Police detained Miranda citing an anti-terrorism law.
The Brazilian, who was in transit on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro where he lives with Greenwald, was questioned for nine hours before being released without charge. His laptop, mobile phone, hard drives and camera were all seized.
“The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like 'when'," Rusbridger wrote.