Press Wakes Up To The Fact That DNC's Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Could Harm Press Freedoms

from the dnc-stomping-on-free-speech dept

Back in April, when lots of anti-Trump folks were cheering on the decision of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to sue various Russians and Wikileaks for hacking and publishing DNC emails, we pointed out that the lawsuit was full of some pretty crazy claims, especially those against Wikileaks. As we said, even if you really hate the role that Julian Assange and Wikileaks played in the 2016 election, the lawsuit itself could have serious ramifications on press freedom, at a time when you would think that those who don’t support the President would want the press to have more freedom to report on him and the various things happening in his administration.

Thankfully, many in the media are recognizing this as well. The Committee to Protect Journalism recently put out a strong article about how this lawsuit could endanger important press freedoms:

Marcy Wheeler, an independent national security reporter who has reviewed the DNC complaint, said the legal theory behind it could be applied to other leaks such as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers–internal documents that were likely obtained illegally from law firms and financial institutions, and then passed to the press. Similar legal cases have already been brought in Europe. One of the law firms named in the Paradise Papers case sued the BBC and the Guardian, the BBC reported.
The DNC’s argument, Wheeler said, could be replicated by the Department of Justice to target an outlet like The Intercept. “If this precedent is out there, the government would happily describe The Intercept as a co-conspirator,” in the Winners or Albury leaks, she told CPJ, referring to former military contractor Reality Winners, and former FBI agent Terry Albury, whom several news outlets speculated were the sources for major leak investigations revealed by The Intercept.

Or, as I noted in my original piece, if this argument flies, what’s to stop the Trump DOJ from going after any publisher (the NY Times? the Washington Post?) who gets its hands on Trump’s hidden tax returns and publishes them?

This does not mean that Wikileaks is a perfect organization — far from it. Wikileaks has a long history of problematic behavior. But that doesn’t mean we should obliterate press freedoms just because Wikileaks made choices many people disagree with:

This is why CPJ has long maintained that WikiLeaks and Assange should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents procured by someone else. WikiLeaks, however, has not always been a responsible steward of its materials. In 2011, the organization released unredacted diplomatic cables that endangered the life of the Ethiopian reporter Argaw Ashine. And in general, WikiLeak’s practice of publicizing large data dumps without probing the context or motivations of leakers can render it vulnerable to manipulation, as CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon has written. Still, as CPJ wrote in a letter to the Obama administration in 2010, arresting Assange would set dangerous precedent for publishers everywhere.

Despite the challenges in dealing with large scale leaks from state hackers, it has become an increasingly routine practice. In the most recent, attorneys for Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy filed a subpoena May 16 for documents from The Associated Press as part of a civil suit against the Qatar government, which he accuses of hacking his emails and leaking them to journalists at the AP and other news organizations. The AP told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that it intends to fight the subpoena. And the Qataris denied any role in the hack, The New York Times reported.

And, of course, all of this by the DNC plays right into the administration’s hands:

The U.S. government already uses vague terminology, which is potentially damaging to publishers, to describe WikiLeaks. Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo–then CIA Director–labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The language was also inserted into a Senate appropriations bill. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who accused WikiLeaks of participating in an “attack” on American democracy, nonetheless raised alarms about the terminology. In a statement issued by his office last August, he said, “The use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets.”

The notion that journalistic activity such as cultivating sources and receiving illegally obtained documents could be construed as part of a criminal conspiracy is, according to Goodale, the “greatest threat to press freedom today.” “It will inhibit reporters’ ability to get whistleblower information, because as soon as you talk to them in any aggressive fashion you could be guilty of a crime,” Goodale said.

There’s a lot more in the article, and the end result highlights just how problematic the lawsuit is. The DNC appears so focused on the many failures of 2016, that it has no problem taking a shotgun to the very freedoms that the press relies on to (hopefully) continue to investigate and reveal illegal activities on the part of this administration (and future administrations). It seems both incredibly short sighted and… par for the course.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: wikileaks

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Press Wakes Up To The Fact That DNC's Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Could Harm Press Freedoms”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
7 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Hidden?

what’s to stop the Trump DOJ from going after any publisher … who gets its hands on Trump’s hidden tax returns and publishes them?

"Hidden" is quite a slanted way of saying "private". You know, private like any other citizen’s tax returns. He’s released the financial information he was legally obligated to release and has chosen to reserve the rights to privacy that the law grants him.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...
Older Stuff
10:43 California Governor Signs Bill Forbidding The Use Of Rap Lyrics As Criminal Evidence (12)
10:45 The Onion Files Hilarious Amicus Brief In An Important Case, And Actually Makes A Key Point In The Best Way Possible (23)
09:31 There Are Real Threats To Free Speech Everywhere. Cancel Culture Is Far Down The List (338)
10:44 Germany's Government Continues To Lock People Up For Being Extremely Online (18)
09:35 Saudi Prosecutors Are Targeting A US Citizen For Tweets Criticizing The Government (18)
13:36 Finally, Some Good News: Federal Anti-SLAPP Law Introduced (9)
16:43 5th Circuit Rewrites A Century Of 1st Amendment Law To Argue Internet Companies Have No Right To Moderate (625)
12:03 Court To Public University: Yeah, It's A 1st Amendment Problem When You Delete Comments You Don't Like (16)
10:46 Judge Blocks 'No Recording Cops Within 8 Feet' Law Even Arizona Cops Don't Want To Defend (6)
09:31 Virginia Court Rejects Prior Restraint, Says Old Law Used In Attempt To Ban Books Is Unconstitutional (18)
12:20 Censorship Starts At Home: Turkish Gov't Controls The Press, Repeatedly Claims It Does Not Control The Press (6)
05:35 Wannabe Censor Ron DeSantis Is Now 0 For 2 With His Censorship Bills: Court Throws Out His 'Stop WOKE Act' As Unconstitutional (34)
09:38 Elon Musk's Legal Filings Against Twitter Show How Little He Actually Cares About Free Speech (35)
12:07 Virginia Politicians Are Suing Books They Don't Like (65)
09:21 Appeals Court Corrects Its Previous Error, Holds That Recording Cops Is A Clearly Established Right (8)
15:27 Federal Court Allows Protesters' First Amendment Suit Against Violent Boston Cops To Continue (26)
19:39 Student Expelled Over Off-Campus Nazi Joke Can Continue To Sue The School, Says Appeals Court (205)
10:42 Twitter Sues Indian Government Over Orders To Block Content (3)
10:47 Policymakers Need To Realize How Any Internet Regulation Will Impact Speech (135)
10:44 More Than Two Thirds Of States Are Pushing Highly Controversial (And Likely Unconstitutional) Bills To Moderate Speech Online (50)
13:38 Australia's Upside Down Internet Liability Policy Shows How Section 230 Enables More Free Speech (87)
09:28 The Moral Panic Is Spreading: Think Tank Proposes Banning Teens From Social Media; Texas Rep Promises To Intro Bill (88)
12:15 Federal Agent Stupidly Threatens Twitter User With Arrest Over Protected First Amendment Expression (57)
09:31 How The Dobbs Decision Will Lead To Attacks On Free Speech; Or, Why Democrats Need To Stop Undermining Free Speech (52)
10:46 Devin Nunes Loses Yet Another SLAPP Suit, This Time In California (21)
09:28 Philippines Orders Critical News Organization, Rappler, Shut Down; Just As Rappler's Founder Argues Against Free Speech (11)
09:19 Clarence Thomas REALLY Wants To Make It Easier For The Powerful To Sue People For Criticizing Them (32)
15:39 Twitter Successfully Quashes Sketchy Copyright Subpoena Over Billionaire's Critic On Twitter (237)
12:14 Giant Private Prison Company Goes To Court To Try To Get Lawyer To Stop Tweeting About Them (15)
10:48 UK Approves Extradition Of Julian Assange, Allowing The US Government To Continue Criminalizing Journalism (46)
More arrow