British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday threatened unspecified action over the Guardian newspaper’s disclosures of American intelligence material, saying officials would find it tough to stand back if the media don’t show enough restraint over what they publish.
Britain has no First Amendment-like protection guaranteeing freedom of the press from official interference, and its Official Secrets Act punishes the unauthorized disclosure of classified material, but successive governments have generally relied on informal lobbying to keep sensitive national security stories out of the news.
Despite a stream of Guardian stories detailing British and American intelligence gathering, Cameron’s government has so far opted not to go to court to gag the paper. But in a question-and-answer session with lawmakers, Cameron indicated that his government's patience was running out.
“The approach we have taken is to try to talk to the press and explain how damaging some of these things can be,” he said, outlining his strategy.
“I don’t want to have to use injunctions or D-Notices,” he said, referring to the warnings sometimes issued to the country’s press over sensitive national security stories. “I think it’s much better to appeal to newspapers’ sense of social responsibility.
“But if they don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act.”
The Guardian’s disclosures - drawn overwhelmingly from material leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden - have laid bare the world-spanning sweep of American surveillance activities.
They have shown how the NSA logs the calls of tens of millions of ordinary Americans; keeps track of a large chunk of the world's email traffic; and even monitors the phones of world leaders.
GCHQ, the NSA’s British counterpart, has also come under scrutiny.
The revelations have sparked an international debate over surveillance and privacy, but some critics say the unusually explicit look at U.S. and U.K. intelligence-gathering is damaging to the security of both nations.