More on Craig Murray, his book, and government censorship of the Web
Things are moving fast and becoming increasingly interesting in the affair of the book by Craig Murray, former ambassador in Uzbekistan, the passages deleted from or rewritten in it at the behest of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), and now the FCO's efforts to force Craig to remove from his website the texts and passages bowdlerised from his book, many of them actually released earlier by the FCO under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) or the Data Protection Act (DPA).
The background and some of the legal issues now raised by the FCO's ultimatums to Craig are described in my previous blog entry, below — see especially the substantial update appended to it earlier today, 11 July, and the Comments on the original post.
The latest development is a further exchange of letters between the Treasury Solicitors acting for the FCO and Craig: you can read the texts of both here. The earlier letter from the Treasury Solicitors is here. This is the letter containing the extraordinary assertion that just because documents have been released to an applicant under the FOI or the DPA it doesn't mean that the recipient of them is free to reproduce them or put them on a website, since they are still protected by Crown Copyright — food for thought for (e.g.) newspapers which manage to extract information under FOI but which are now apparently being told that they are not allowed to publish it.
The documents which the FCO, through the Treasury Solicitors, is trying to compel Craig Murray to remove from his website can all be read, as of now (Tuesday evening 11 July), by clicking the links to them here. As this is not actually Craig's own website, it's not entirely clear how Craig is expected to have them removed from it — or from the growing numbers of other websites which have uploaded the documents and made them available online.
There are some interesting media commentaries on what is going on, e.g. at:
The second of these, an article in today's Guardian, quotes extensively from the offending texts. The implications of these extracts appearing in a national newspaper, both in print and on its website, are considered in the 11 July update to my previous blog entry.
The government's attempt to use Crown Copyright to prevent the publication on the Web, in a book, or (by implication) anywhere else, of material which has been released under FOI or the DPA raises issues going far beyond the outcome of Craig's bitter battle with his former employers, significant though that is in itself. The proliferation of texts of the documents objected to on a mounting number of websites in several countries suggests that the FCO's attempt to suppress them all is probably doomed: Spycatcher Plus. These events may decisively change the balance of power between future whistleblowers and the State — with sombre as well as welcome consequences for transparency on the one hand and good government on the other. There are important implications, too, for the availability or otherwise to government of the Official Secrets Act as a means of protecting sensitive material whose disclosure may damage the national interest (which is the interest of all of us). But whatever the legal outcome of the impending debates and probably law suits that will decide these issues, it would be utterly indefensible for the FCO to pursue its dispute with Craig Murray to the point either of bankrupting him, or of breaking his already fragile health. Whatever one might think of the rights and wrongs of his actions in Uzbekistan and subsequently (and there's ample room for two or more views on that), it's surely enough that he has lost his career and his livelihood at the hands of the government: clarifying the legal issues he has raised and doing whatever can realistically be done to protect sensitive material from even wider dissemination plainly need not entail inflicting more damage on him as a person. Vindictiveness ill becomes democratic government.
I'm going to be Away From Keyboard, as they say, from next weekend until the end of the month, and unable to continue to monitor developments on this front during that time. Plenty of other websites will be doing so: just type "Craig Murray" (with the quotation marks) into the admirable Technorati or http://blogsearch.google.com/. Meanwhile, I'll aim to add periodic updates to this post as necessary between now and Saturday the 15th. If you're interested, watch this space.
Update, early hours of Friday 14 July: Craig Murray has now been forced by the government's threats of legal action against him (for resistance to which he lacks the enormous resources required) to remove the offending documents from his website, even though most have previously been released to him or others under the Freedom of Information and/or the Data Protection Acts. The documents however remain freely available on numerous other websites, easily identified either by doing a search on Technorati or Google's blog-search facility, or by referring to the list of mirror sites on the website of Craig's friends.
Meanwhile Craig's book is now in the bookshops and available from Amazon.co.uk. Highly readable, highly recommended, even after its treatment at the hands of the New Labour censors.