Iceland government refuses to reveal content of US Snowden messages

Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden. Photo: AFP

The Icelandic government has refused local media access to official messages sent by the United States to Iceland in 2013 regarding US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

At the same time as the FBI sent messages to the governments of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden requesting they immediately “effectuate the return” of Snowden to the United States should he try and enter their countries, Iceland also received two official communiqués.

Icelandic news website mbl.is (sister site of Iceland Monitor) requested to see copies of these messages last September, but the Foreign Ministry denied the request on the strength of existing Icelandic information and criminal procedure legislation.

Extract from US communiqué to Norway dated 27 June 2013.

Extract from US communiqué to Norway dated 27 June 2013. Source: NRK

The decision was appealed by mbl.is to Iceland’s Information Services Complaints Committee, who on Tuesday rejected the case, effectively further preventing disclosure of the messages sent by the United States.

Snowden is wanted by US authorities on charges of theft of government property and wilful communication of classified intelligence, after having leaked details of classified US government surveillance programmes.

There has been talk in Iceland previously of granting Snowden asylum or even citizenship.

mbl.is argued that, since Snowden is not the object of any criminal case or prosecution in Iceland, there is no impediment to giving local media access to the messages. If such criminal proceedings were under way, Icelandic law would indeed prevent disclosure.

The Icelandic Foreign Ministry.

The Icelandic Foreign Ministry. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Kristinn Ingvarsson

The news outlet furthermore pointed out that it was in the public interest for the media to discuss what the US government had asked of Iceland, on what grounds, and what the response of the Icelandic government had been.

This is particularly relevant, argued mbl.is, given the ongoing debate on the issue of whistleblowers, and in light of a recent European Parliament resolution urging EU Member States to prevent any extradition of Snowden to the US.

Norwegian media NRK have published the messages Norway received from the US, which are marked ‘unclassified’. If the content of the Icelandic communiqués is the same, there is no argument for not revealing their content, mbl.is also argued.

Snowden is wanted by US authorities.

Snowden is wanted by US authorities. Photo: AFP

The Information Services Complaints Committee dismissed the case on Tuesday, meaning the Snowden messages remain under wraps.

“Although the requested messages do not contain a formal request for the extradition of an accused person, they are deemed to be have been kept the Foreign Ministry as part of the process of handling requests from foreign authorities regarding action taken in Iceland on criminal proceedings,” the Committee’s ruling reads.

Full mbl.is news story (in Icelandic) here.

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