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UK response to Snowden data 'imperils press freedom': rights groups

Demonstrators hold signs supporting fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as they gather for the "Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against
Demonstrators hold signs supporting fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as they gather for the "Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government's response to leaks of intelligence information by former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden has eroded human rights and press freedoms, rights groups said on Sunday.

In an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron published in Britain's Guardian newspaper, 70 different press advocacy and rights groups from 40 countries said they were alarmed at the way his government had reacted, saying it had invoked national security legislation to try to suppress information of public interest.

"We believe that the United Kingdom government's response ... is eroding fundamental human rights in the country. The government's response has been to condemn, rather than celebrate, investigative journalism, which plays a crucial role in a healthy democratic society," they said.

Disclosures about the activities of Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping organisation and its cooperation with America's National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed the government and angered many lawmakers in Cameron's ruling Conservative party, who believe the leaks have harmed national security.

Cameron's top aides persuaded the Guardian to destroy some data which they said was too sensitive to reveal, but the prime minister has since expressed frustration that the paper went on to publish other material.

He has accused newspapers of assisting Britain's enemies by helping them avoid surveillance by its intelligence services and has threatened to act to stop further publication.

In an unprecedented move, the heads of Britain's intelligence agencies will answer questions about their activities during a parliamentary hearing later this week.

A link to the full letter is here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/03/human-rights-groups-letter-david-cameron

(Reporting By Andrew Osborn; Editing by Barry Moody)

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