Paedophiles and other criminals could benefit from the Guardian newspaper’s stories based on leaks by Edward Snowden, the High Court hears.
Paedophiles may escape detection because highly-classified material about Britain’s surveillance capabilities have been published by the Guardian newspaper, the government has claimed.
A senior Whitehall official said data stolen by Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the US National Security Agency, could be exploited by child abusers and other cyber criminals.
It could also put lives at risk by disclosing secrets to terrorists, insurgents and hostile foreign governments, he said.
The claims emerged as lawyers for the Home Office launched a hard-hitting defence against a legal challenge which is seeking to establish the partner of a Guardian journalist was wrongly detained at Heathrow airport in August.
The High Court heard in a statement from Oliver Robbins, the deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience at the Cabinet Office, that publication of stories based on Mr Snowden’s stolen material had caused “real and serious damage” to national security.
Revealing the capabilities of MI5, MI6 and the government listening post GCHQ would make it easier for “terrorists to evade detection” and for “hostile foreign states to identify our intelligence officers and take steps against them”, said Mr Robbins.
He added that the disclosures risked making it easier for “paedophiles to cover their tracks online”.
Mr Robbins’ nine-page statement did not go into detail about how paedophiles would benefit from the Guardian’s stories about the security services.
However, it is well known that many paedophiles use the internet to share child pornography and to groom potential victims. They also use “peer to peer” groups on the web to communicate with other child abusers.
Any clues about how to evade detection which have been provided by Mr Snowden’s leaks could help paedophiles to cover their tracks.
Mr Robbins’ statement also said the data risked putting the lives of members of the Armed forces at risk from insurgents overseas.
Lawyers for David Miranda claimed the police and security services breached the law when they stopped him at Heathrow airport in August and seized nine electronic devices which contained 58,000 secret documents.
Mr Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories based in the leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, is also claiming his human rights were breached.
“It is right that the police should take action when an individual is suspected of couriering highly sensitive material that is of use to terrorists and other actors who seek to undermine our freedoms,” said Mr Robbins’ statement.
“There was and continues to be great concern about the potential harm which could result from the publication of the material appropriated by Mr Snowden and held by others at the time of Miranda’s stop.
“The Security Service believed that the onward transmission of the material posed a significant threat to UK national security.”
Matthew Ryder QC, for Mr Miranda, argued the government and the police were wrong to use Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain his client.
Mr Ryder told the court that responsible disclosure of such material by the Guardian and other internationally respected newspapers “is not and cannot be terrorism”.
“The exceptional nature of this case insofar as it involves the use of Schedule 7 powers to obtain highly controversial journalistic material should not be underestimated,” said Mr Ryder.
Scotland Yard announced in August that it had launched a criminal investigation into the affair.
Police are understood to be still working to decrypt the files seized from Mr Miranda, a Brazilian citizen who was allowed to continue his journey after being held and questioned.
The case continues.
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