9 Important Moments From Alan Rusbridger’s Terrorism Evidence To Parliament

The Home Affairs Select Committee had a lot of questions for the man behind The Guardian’s coverage of the NSA security leaks.

Yesterday, Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, was called to give evidence to MPs about its extensive coverage of the NSA Files leaks.

The Home Affairs Select Committee is investigating counter-terrorism and will later hear from the head of MI5.

Edward Snowden, the rogue intelligence expert, leaked information from the US National Security Agency to The Guardian, among others.

This revealed mass surveillance carried out by both the the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ listening service - effectively spying on citizens’ private data, including criminals and non-suspects too, with secret policies in place to obtain the kind of information that normally requires a police warrant.

This prompted a full-blown diplomatic row between several countries and the US, and President Obama called for a full review into the NSA’s activities.

1. But some MPs think the paper has been irresponsible in its reporting, accusing it of endangering national security and individual agents in the secret service at home and abroad.

Rusbridger denied publishing or releasing the names of anyone at risk or any sensitive information that would be useful to terrorists and defended his paper’s actions, adding that he would stand up to any government intimidation.

But MPs still had a lot of questions. Some of them, however, didn’t make much sense.

2. Committee chairman, Labour’s Keith Vaz, wasted no time in questioning Rusbridger’s patriotism.

3. But Rusbridger loves his country, he says.

Rusbridger went on to say: “I think there are countries, and they’re not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers. That’s not the country that we live in, in Britain…”

4. Then came a bizarre string of questions from Tory MP Michael Ellis, a former barrister.

Rusbridger’s response: “You’ve completely lost me there. There are gay members of GCHQ. Is that a surprise?”

5. Counter-terrorism professionals love Disney.

Ellis argued that that meant family data was published because it was a family outing. Rusbridger dismissed the point.

6. And then the trump card, the use of Godwin’s Law:

Rusbridger called this a “well-worn red herring” and said journalists could make a distinction between things like that and news of public interest.

7. There were many questions asking where the boundary is drawn between public service journalism information that could hinder counter-terrorism efforts.

Getty Images

Rusbridger accepts that Tor - the data encryption service developed by the US military - is used by both foreign dissidents living under oppressive regimes, which is good, and by paedophiles trying to cover their tracks, which is bad.

The Guardian’s reporting showed that Tor is still a secure form of data encryption - which critics say is good news for criminals, though Rusbridger says he hasn’t published anything not already on Tor’s website.

MPs seemed reluctant to debate the finer points of data encryption.

8. Rusbridger compared the situation to the Spycatcher case from the 1980s, where MPs tried to suppress a book that was freely available in Australia.

Luke Macgregor / Reuters

Government officials came to The Guardian’s office earlier this year to destroy some hard drives - in a kind of big food blender, we learned yesterday - even though the data was stored securely online here and in the US.

9. Meanwhile, there could be arrests following the detention of David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Later in the same hearing, Cressida Dick, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that “some people” could face arrest following the seizure of data held by Miranda at Heathrow airport in August under the Terrorism Act.

Miranda was en route from Germany to Brazil and is thought to have been carrying secret documents.

You can hear Rusbridger’s evidence in full here.

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Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
 
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