U.K. gov't ordered official to stem Guardian leaks

Aug 21, 2013, 10:27 AM EDT
A display fronts the offices of the Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer, on Monday night, Aug. 19, 2013.
(AP Photo/Raphael Satter)

LONDON (AP) — Britain's government ordered the country's top civil servant to ask the Guardian newspaper to destroy data leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, senior ministers said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defended the decision to ask Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood to approach the newspaper, which began publishing stories in June based on Snowden's leaks.

"The deputy prime minister thought it was reasonable for the cabinet secretary to request that the Guardian destroyed data that would represent a serious threat to national security if it was to fall into the wrong hands," Clegg's office said in a statement. "The deputy prime minister felt this was a preferable approach to taking legal action."

The statement said the action "was agreed to on the understanding that the purpose of the destruction of the material would not impinge on the Guardian's ability to publish articles about the issue, but would help as a precautionary measure to protect lives and security."

The Guardian says it destroyed hard drives containing material leaked by Snowden rather than hand it over or face legal action from the government.

The paper says it has other copies of the material outside Britain.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also backed the decision to ask The Guardian to get rid of the documents.

"The government clearly has a duty if information is held insecurely and could be damaging to our national security, to try to make sure that it is recovered or destroyed," he said.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger disclosed the destruction amid disquiet over the detention of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, who was held for nearly nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport last weekend. Miranda was ferrying data between filmmaker Laura Poitras in Germany to Greenwald, who is based in Brazil.

Civil libertarians argue Miranda was unlawfully detained, and have described the incident as an abuse of power.

A law firm representing Miranda has begun legal action against the government and wants assurances that material seized from him will not be shared with anyone.