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Seventy of the world’s leading human rights organisations have written toDavid Cameron to warn that the government’s reaction to the mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden is leading to an erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms in the UK.

The coalition, which includes organisations from 40 countries, said it had become increasingly alarmed at the way the UK government had applied pressure on media groups covering the leaks and its use of national security concerns to close down important public interest debates.

“We have joined together as an international coalition because we believe that the United Kingdom government’s response to the revelations of mass surveillance of digital communications is eroding fundamental human rights in the country,” the letter states. “The government’s response has been to condemn, rather than celebrate investigative journalism, which plays a crucial role in a healthy democratic society.”

The intervention comes five months after the Guardian, and major media organisations in other countries, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, began disclosing details of the extent and reach of secret surveillance programmes run by Britain’s eavesdropping centre,GCHQ, and its US counterpart, the National Security Agency. The revelations – now appearing in European media outlets – have sparked a huge debate on the scale and oversight of surveillance by the US and UK intelligence agencies.

The open letter to the prime minister, which was organised by Article 19 in the UK and is signed by groups from the US to Malaysia and Israel, says the British government response has damaged the country’s longstanding reputation for freedom of expression and a free press.

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