Germany’s chief human rights official has criticized a British demand that a British newspaper destroy material leaked by US whistlebower Edward Snowden. Russia also expressed condemnation for the move.
The German Foreign Ministry's human rights chief, Markus Löning, on Wednesday said he had "great concern" after the Guardian said it was forced to destroy files linked to US surveillance activities.
The newspaper said it destroyed the material passed to it by the former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden after a request by a top civil servant. The British government has said it was keen to ensure that the material did not fall into the wrong hands.
Löning expressed anxiety over the way that the newspaper had been pressured into clearing the hard drives that contained the material, as described by newspaper editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. Rushbridger said the process of clearing the files had been overseen by officials from the British security agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
"The actions of the security services against the Guardian as described… shocked me," Löning told the German daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung. "The red line was crossed there."
Löning's comments also followed the detention of the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was stopped at London's Heathrow Airport and had computer equipment seized. Brazilian David Miranda was held for almost nine hours - the maximum permissible time under British anti-terror legislation.
That action was also critcized by Löning. "The United Kingdom has a long and proud tradition of freedom but the way the authorities detained David Miranda at Heathrow airport I see as unacceptable," he said. "That took place on the basis of an anti-terror law but I cannot see any connection to terrorism."
The British government has said the detention of Miranda was a policing decision and not a political one. It said it had asked for the Guardian to destroy the files - fearing the consequences if the material fell into the hands of terrorists - rather than taking legal action.
The spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, said he would not comment directly on the case of the destroyed files. However, he did say that new legislation in Germany would make such a situation unlikely. "I think this scenario that is now being discussed in Britain is barely imaginable here," he said.
'Out of synch with commitments'
British Home Secretary Theresa May said it had been appropriate for Britain's most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, to ask the paper to give up the National Security Agency (NSA) secrets leaked to it by Snowden.
"I think issues of national security are rightly addressed at an appropriate level within government and I do not find it surprising that someone at a very senior level within government should be involved in this particular issue," May told the BBC.
The newspaper says it has other copies of the material outside Britain.
Russia, which has granted asylum to Snowden, condemned London for putting pressure on the newspaper, saying it was "out of synch" with British commitments to human rights and freedom of the press.
"This once more speaks of the perverse practice of double standards applied by London in the field of human rights," said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
A White House spokesman on Tuesday said it was difficult to imagine authorities in the US taking such action regarding the media, even in defense of national security.
rc/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)