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70 rights groups caution Prime Minister David Cameron over U.K. response to surveillance

Seventy free speech, human rights, internet and media freedom organisations from around the world have written to the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to voice their concern about the erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms in the country.

The open letter comes in response to a series of events in the wake of the Guardian newspaper's reporting of the Edward Snowden disclosures, revealing mass surveillance of digital communications by the UK security agency, GCHQ.

In the letter, the international coalition states its deep concern about the way in which the UK government is using national security arguments to restrict individuals and media organisations who have helped generate an important public interest debate. The coalition believes that it is crucial that the people of the UK should be able to have an open and informed discussion about the acceptable parameters of state surveillance, as well as a mechanism to ensure the oversight and accountability of such surveillance.

“If the government opened every letter you received and took a photocopy of it without you knowing, I'm confident most people would think that was unacceptable. As a result of the Guardian's reporting we now know that the security agencies have the power to do the equivalent thing online. In essence, this is about the distinct possibility that private personal correspondence, photographs, bank statements and more can be accessed by agents of the state without appropriate oversight” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19

“The knee-jerk reaction of David Cameron and the government has been to shoot the messengers. Edward Snowden, David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian are being painted as the villains of this piece. They are being targeted for raising a matter of serious public interest. This seems to be a convenient distraction from what might otherwise be a story about state overreach and inadequate oversight of power” added Hughes.

The open letter raises specific concern about:

  • The detention of David Miranda and the seizure of his property by UK officials at Heathrow airport using laws designed to catch terrorists. David Miranda is a Brazilian national and the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke a series of stories concerning mass state surveillance in the USA and UK.
  • The sustained pressure that is being applied against the Guardian newspaper, including forcing the destruction of computer hard-drives at the newspaper.
  • The Prime Minister advocating for a parliamentary review as to whether the Guardian had damaged national security through publication of stories concerning mass surveillance.
  • The subsequent announcement that the Home Affairs Select Committee will question the newspaper as part of its counter-terrorism inquiry.

“We recognise that targeted electronic surveillance can play a vital role in national security measures to protect democratic societies. However, national security must not be used as an excuse to erode the rights and freedoms at the heart of democracies” added Hughes.

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