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UK Tried to Stop Snowden Stories by Smashing Hard Drives

By - Source: Guardian | B 29 comments

The Guardian newspaper reveals how the UK government has responded to its coverage of the Snowden leaks.

Earlier this year, Edward Snowden leaked information about mass surveillance programs to the media. One of the newspapers responsible for breaking the Snowden stories was The Guardian in the UK. Snowden first talked to The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald in 2012 and Greenwald has covered the issue of mass surveillance extensively over the last few months. This past weekend, his partner David Miranda was detained in London's Heathrow Airport under schedule 7 of the UK's terror laws.

Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera were seized and, in a piece published in The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger sheds some light on why: David Miranda apparently helps Greenwald in the production of his stories. Miranda's nine-hour detention encouraged Rusbridger to share another story about the UK government and its attempts to prevent The Guardian from "informing the public about what the intelligence agencies, governments and corporations are up to."

Rusbridger says he was contacted by a senior UK official a couple of months ago. This official demanded the Guardian either turn over or destroy all of the material it had. Though he explained that the information in question was not exclusive to staff in the UK (in fact, most of its NSA stories were coming from New York), the UK government was undeterred. And so, members of the British Intelligence agency GHCQ visited The Guardian's offices and destroyed computers and hard drives relating to the Snowden saga.

"Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age," writes Rusbridger. "We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London."

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  • 11 Hide
    fimbulvinter , August 21, 2013 6:20 AM
    The title of this article should've been "UK Gov Doesn't Understand How Computer Files Work"
  • 10 Hide
    outlw6669 , August 21, 2013 2:56 AM
    Not at all surprising that the involved governments are going to great lengths to keep the extent of their domestic spying programs out of public view.
    It would be nice if there was some legal recourse that could be taken against these nanny states; changing politicians alone never seems to help >.<
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    joneb , August 21, 2013 2:24 AM
    fixxxer113 even a hammer isnt an asured way of destroying a hard drive unless it is opened up and the actual disk inside is destroyed. There are infact professional machines with extremely powerful magnets that are the best chance of destroying them.
  • -4 Hide
    fixxxer113 , August 21, 2013 2:56 AM
    Quote:
    fixxxer113 even a hammer isnt an asured way of destroying a hard drive unless it is opened up and the actual disk inside is destroyed. There are infact professional machines with extremely powerful magnets that are the best chance of destroying them.


    That's the point, smashing the platters to bits. Strong magnets work also, although they are harder to find. Large mechanical shredders are also a very satisfying way :p 
  • 10 Hide
    outlw6669 , August 21, 2013 2:56 AM
    Not at all surprising that the involved governments are going to great lengths to keep the extent of their domestic spying programs out of public view.
    It would be nice if there was some legal recourse that could be taken against these nanny states; changing politicians alone never seems to help >.<
  • 6 Hide
    fixxxer113 , August 21, 2013 3:09 AM
    Quote:
    Snow den, Wikileaks,... All psychological operations of the CIA.

    Nice show for stupid public...


    Be careful, if you never see an end to the conspiracy layers, if you think the rabbit-hole has no bottom, you might go nuts. We might never find out who pulls the strings. But we can use the information we get to decide how we're going to live. The fact is that there are a lot of people that are absolutely clueless about these things. Even if Wikileaks and Snowden are not selfish idealists, at least through them, some people learn and are a bit more informed on issues like the existance of actual privacy in information.
  • 7 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 21, 2013 3:39 AM
    @Fixxxer

    Until there are dozens of other copies of those files in various countries around the world. Then it's really pointless.
  • 2 Hide
    Chetou , August 21, 2013 3:47 AM
    @fixxxer

    How would you check if a certain file on the HDD has been copied? Or if it itself is a billionth copy?
  • -2 Hide
    fixxxer113 , August 21, 2013 3:55 AM
    Quote:
    @fixxxer

    How would you check if a certain file on the HDD has been copied? Or if it itself is a billionth copy?


    If you find out that certain files on the HDD have been copied to another location or device even once, then it's safe to assume that there are many copies already on the Internet. There are methods a forensics expert can use to find out what happened. There are logs that he has access to and tools that normal users don't have. You'd be suprised how much info there is about what happened in the past, on a storage device or even in a file itself.
  • -4 Hide
    fixxxer113 , August 21, 2013 3:57 AM
    Quote:
    @Fixxxer

    Until there are dozens of other copies of those files in various countries around the world. Then it's really pointless.


    That's what I said. Read the whole post. In any case, you will want to destroy the files on that device too, so smashing it to bits is the only certain way.
  • 0 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 21, 2013 5:03 AM
    Quote:
    There are ways to check if certain files have been previously copied to other devices.

    Umm, not really. You check if I've booted off a live USB, mounted the drive in read only mode, and cloned it?

    The point was that when there are other copies you have no hope of removing, removing one is pointless.

    When you actually read the Guardian's article, they chose to destroy it themselves instead of handing it over. Not a case of being told to destroy it; it was 'give it to us', then 'we can't give it to you if it's non-existent'.
  • 4 Hide
    IndignantSkeptic , August 21, 2013 5:34 AM
    Did they really destroy whole computers? All they had to do was destroy the disks, memory cards, and memory sticks. If they think they need to destroy the whole computer then they are dangerously stupid. That can work in our favour if they are trying to do something bad to us, but can work against us if they try to do something good to us. It's worrying how stupid the people, who take care of us, are. Also what about all the other indisputably legitimate work that was destroyed in the process?
  • 3 Hide
    silverblue , August 21, 2013 5:54 AM
    "GHCQ" I think you meant GCHQ.
  • 11 Hide
    fimbulvinter , August 21, 2013 6:20 AM
    The title of this article should've been "UK Gov Doesn't Understand How Computer Files Work"
  • 1 Hide
    Branden , August 21, 2013 7:10 AM
    firstly - what good does destroying those harddrives do? was anyone dumb enough to think those drives contained the only copy? the second something hits the web (especially stuff like nude photos and leaks like this) there are thousands of copies spread across the globe in seconds.
    second - "the truth will set you free". show me a government that doesn't want you to know the truth and i'll show you a government that doesn't want you to know freedom.
  • 1 Hide
    acehawk , August 21, 2013 8:29 AM
    @fixxxer113

    In the circumstances outlined in this article the destruction of the HDDs WAS pointless.
  • 1 Hide
    Ddram Bo , August 21, 2013 8:44 AM
    fixxxer113 has a vacuous knowledge of this subject.
    "Destroying HDD's" is pointless since the files on most networked computer systems are 'backed up' regularly, usually to a different computer or the 'cloud'.
    There is no "way to check if certain files have been previously copied" unless you know they were copied, or find them in a temp cache where copied files reside since the head of the drive leaves no change in the file itself. As those cache files are deleted and overwritten by new temp files, the history of this activity is removed. In either case, destroying the hardware would have no effect on the copies.
    I doubt that fixxxer113 knows what a 'forensic expert' may or may not know.
    fixxxer113 appears to be no smarter than a digital camera manual that he sort of remembers reading. (Something "actually said" is not "something similar" except with regards to your interpretation, which, in the case of fixxxer113, would appear to encompass quite a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance.)
    "deleting/formatting" in this case are not methods of destroying data, but merely reusing previously unavailable disk space. To destroy data, it must be overwritten with new data, and the more times it is overwritten, the less magnetic 'residue' remains from which any subsequent analysis may be made to reveal what was there before. This is similar to what you could expect when you reused the same ink cartridge in old typewriters - the ink would be strongest where the tape had only been used once, and become weaker as each new character reused the tape where a previous character had been typed. The difference is that the magnetic 'imprint' where a character appears doesn't reveal the previous character if overwritten enough times. The level of sophistication of the forensic equipment, and the trained technicians to use it, needed to attempt to retrieve overwritten information is well beyond the budget of anyone other than a large corporation or government agency. A typical hard drive head can't 'read' what was stored in a given location before it was overwritten, so a single overpass is sufficient.
    Ultimately, smashing equipment, microwaving CD/DVD's, burning documents, and killing witnesses are the caveman's approach to information removal, and in this case, the UK's lauded British Intelligence Agency displayed a pathetic level of understanding regarding digital information storage. It was more likely meant as a demonstration of the threatened financial cost in equipment to anyone attempting to thwart their authority.
  • 6 Hide
    Soda-88 , August 21, 2013 11:17 AM
    Seems like fixxxer113 has been watching CSI
  • 3 Hide
    smokeybravo , August 21, 2013 11:20 AM
    Reporters are now considered terrorists under British Law? What a dangerous time we live in. At any rate, the documents will never be snuffed out at this point. But it's scary to think about the lengths these criminal governments will go to to censor information.

    The information Snowden leaked exposed not only lies from the world's most powerful intelligence agency, but also the fact that they are breaking the US constitution.

    If it is a crime to expose the illegal actions of governments, there is no hope for us. This must be addressed now, in the heat of the moment. We won't get another chance after this.
  • -1 Hide
    IndignantSkeptic , August 21, 2013 2:05 PM
    As long as there are still so many people in these governments that are stupid enough to think that gayness should still be persecuted or even prosecuted, then certainly we should not allow them to invade privacy. Furthermore we should not allow governments or anyone to commit industrial espionage to steal trade secrets which will then put science companies into debt and cause the retardation of scientific progress. Hopefully the spying hasn't gone that far yet. However I believe Chinese organisations have been doing this to USA and European organisations for ages now, and it is possibly a major reason why the Chinese economy is superior right now while the others are failing, and is also possibly a major reason that many Republicans seem to be trying to halt R&D spending.
  • 1 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 21, 2013 3:06 PM
    Assuming you don't want to use a hammer, maybe even reuse the HDD afterwards but really want to ensure the data is dead, I have 4 letters for you - DBAN - read that and stop getting all your tech knowledge from the user manual of a cheap camcorder
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