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Council of Europe questions UK on reaction to US surveillance program

The Council of Europe [official website] on Wednesday expressed concern over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program, asking for further information. British authorities allegedly threatened legal action [Guardian report] against The Guardian and forced employees to destroy computer equipment, including hard drives and memory chips containing information leaked by Edward Snowden. In an open letter [text, PDF] to British Home Secretary Theresa May [official biography], the Council of Europe warned that such measures by the British government may have a "chilling effect" on journalists' freedom of expression and asked for more information on the allegations.

The revelations surrounding the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In June the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy websites] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward [Guardian report] in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA technical worker that accessed the surveillance files when he was contracted as a civilian to work on projects for the NSA. He stated in an interview with The Guardian that he released the material because he believed the surveillance violated the right to privacy.

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