In the U.S., first amendment prevents the government from seeking pre-publication injunctions

In a move designed to protect its right to publish stories from offshore, The Guardian has said it will share with The New York Times (NYT) some of the sensitive documents passed on by the whistleblower Edward Snowden to columnist Glenn Greenwald and film maker Laura Poitras. The aim of this partnership is to circumvent the extraordinary pressure that the newspaper has been under from the British government to hand over the material in its possession.

This is the second time in recent years that The Guardian has forged partnerships with other media publications to put information in the public domain. In 2010, the newspaper entered into an understanding with NYT and Der Spiegel to release the huge cache of U.S. diplomatic and military documents released by WikiLeaks, of which the relevant documents pertaining to India were published by The Hindu.

Government pressure on The Guardian has been building up dramatically in the last several weeks. The newspaper has run more than 300 stories in the last 11 weeks on the Snowden files, which has “…shed unprecedented light on the scale and sophistication of surveillance on both sides of the Atlantic — and the secret laws underpinning such programmes”, said a report published by it on Thursday. The report summed up the key findings that have emerged from the series of reports it has carried so far based on information gleaned from top-secret files of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the GCHQ, the U.K. intelligence agency.

The two most recent official attempts at preventing the newspaper from pursuing its exposure of secret surveillance mechanisms by the U.K. and U.S. governments appears to have been the immediate provocation for the decision to collaborate with the NYT. Just two months ago, The Guardian was forced to allow the destruction of computer equipment under the supervision of security officials in the basement of its offices in Kings Place.

This was followed by the confiscation of electronic equipment that contained yet more incriminating material from David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, in Heathrow airport last Sunday. The U.K. government is facing intense criticism from several political constituencies for having used the controversial Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act to detain and interrogate Mr. Miranda, who was travelling to Rio de Janeiro from Berlin via London. Mr. Miranda’s lawyers won only a limited injunction in the High Court on their appeal to block access to the material contained in Mr. Miranda’s laptops and other electronic devices. The judges ruled that the data could not be used for a full-scale criminal probe, action that the Met police have already initiated.

In the U.S., journalists are protected by the First Amendment that prevents the government seeking pre-publication injunctions, a powerful reason for shifting the centre of the journalistic investigation there.

With Liberal Democratic leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg distancing himself from the detention of Mr. Miranda — he was not consulted about the police action, he has claimed — the case would appear to hang on the report of the Independent Reviewer of Terror Legislation David Anderson QC.

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