Is Embarrassing the Government Terrorism? British Politicians Think So.

Alan RusbridgerUK ParliamentIf 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 patriotism.

Such concerns have been raised by 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."

Section 58, 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 conviction).

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.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Snowden is the traitor.

    I have to keep reminding myself.

  • Rich||

    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.

    Emphasis added. Whatever you do, don't google "Anarchist Cookbook".

  • Contrarian P||

    That has to be one of the all time stupidest laws I've ever seen. According to it, if you jot down a telephone number for someone who comes in to your shop you later turns out to be a terrorist, you're a felon. If you have in your possession the number to Domino's where your local terrorist gets his pizza, then you're also guilty under section b. I can think of at least twenty equally silly examples without even trying very hard.

  • Rich||

    Yep. This is *blatant* "everyone is a criminal" bullshit. Yet another reason to never set foot in Great Britain.

  • hotsy totsy||

    I so agree! Terrible weather, awful food, stealing that Italian woman's baby because she might not take her meds. They're getting to be crazier and crazier.

    At least Venezuela has good weather.

  • LilDebbie||

    You really shouldn't. It's disinfo. Google "Jolly Roger's Anarchy Cookbook v.666" instead.

  • zaphod||

    That Section 58 is a hoot. Throw away your train tables or you're aiding a terrorist!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's only a matter of time before lawmakers in the states expand their exercising of that clause in the Constitution that says any violation of the Bill of Rights is acceptable if it can be claimed to be useful in your protection. On that day, I expect to finally see the traitors in the WSJ and the NYTimes who report leaks about said violations to be hauled in front of Congress (if not a judge) and made to answer for their actions.

  • Rich||

    if it can be claimed to be useful in your protection

    Claimed by Top. Men., that is.

  • hotsy totsy||

    And Chris Christie. "Go sit across from the 9/11 widows and say that!"

  • Paul.||

    Note, by the way, that The Guardian supports government press regulation

    I'm glad you noticed this, because many a lefty-rag do. They just believe the regulation is to stifle corporate conglomeration and ownership of the media, leaving scruffy reporters free to be scruffy reporters without having to worry about pesky things like bottom lines and staying in business the old fashioned way: by appealing to your customer.

  • Winston||

    We need government officials to save us from the corporate media and will not be afraid of media attacking governments since how can anyone oppose a regime run by TOP. MEN?

  • Paul.||

    Of course one must always remember that the This Isn't What We Meant will be the response if it's ever pointed out to the Guardian Editorial Board that they support such nonsense.

    Again, there's never an "a-ha!" moment.

  • Winston||

    The government media regulators are only supposed to enforce the Common Will that the Guardian supports. The fact that the Government that will enforce these regulations think that revealing their spying apparatus is a violation of the Common Will is beyond them since they don't like Cameron and Clegg.

  • Sevo||

    If embarrassing the gubmint is a crime, there are congress-, judiciary- and executive-lifeforms by the dozens who are going to be hauled before the judge.
    We can start with Obo for his embarrassing impersonation of a competent president.

  • Tejicano||

    "impersonation of a competent president."

    I guess if he ever starts to do that...

  • Rich||

  • pan fried wylie||

    , have yet to be called before Congress to answer for their effrontery in telling about the government's repellent and intrusive activities.

    This is what they hired Balko for.

  • Winston||

    Obviously we need more government to make sure the media and corporations don't do the bidding of the government...

  • Paul.||

    Only government oversight can insure media accountability and neutrality.

  • ||

    Cressida Dick?

  • RishJoMo||

    Well now thats the dumbest thing I have heard all day!

    www.true-anon.tk

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    If a Member of the U.S. Congress farts in public, is this embarrassing to our Government? Can it be considered as an act of "Anal Terrorism"? This needs a lot more study by a Congressional committee. I'm thinking in terms of Chemical Warfare in this case. If it is terrorism would it also be treason?

  • Karla||

    If more persons would think about their actions then there would be less offenses. Don't violate the law and you won't have to stay in prison for that.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement