Two senior United Nations officials have told the UK Government that national security concerns “must never be used as an excuse” to curtail press freedom.
The comments from Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, came in the wake of the row over the detention of the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greeenwald last month.
David Miranda was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act and has since launched a legal bid attempting to stop British security services from inspecting data that was seized from him.
La Rue warned the UK against what he called the “intimidation” of journalists through the use of ant-terror powers.
He said: “The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human rights violations. The press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses.”
Over the course of the Miranda affair, it emerged that secret service officials had earlier in the summer overseen the destruction of material at The Guardian’s offices relating to leaked information from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Snowden material, which had been leaked to Greenwald, revealed the details of vast US and UK surveillance operations.
La Rue continued: “It is clear that the revelations on the extensive mass surveillance initiatives implemented by some governments need to be widely debated. The intimidation of journalists and newspapers questioning alleged abuses by intelligence bodies is certainly not a contribution to the open debate that needs to place.”
Emmerson meanwhile said the actions of the UK government may have breached European law.
He said: I urge the British authorities to review their operations to ensure that they comply fully with the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to liberty and security, and the right to respect for private and family life.”