Snowden Explains How The Espionage Act Unfairly Stacks The Deck Against Reality Winner

from the snowden-supports-reality dept

There's been plenty of talk about the rapid arrest of Reality Winner (and, yes, people are still baffled that a real person is named this) and the fact that the tracking dots on printers may have helped track her down (along with the fact that she was one of only a few people who had recently touched that document). Fewer seem to have focused on the details in the leak, about how the Russians quite likely hacked e-voting vendors to a much deeper level than suspected. That seems like really important information for the public to understand -- especially for those of us who have been screaming from the mountaintops for years about the lack of security in e-voting machines.

In short: this certainly feels like a completely justifiable leak to better inform the public of something important, and done in a way that is unlikely to harm any national security efforts or assets. It seems to fit right in with the whistleblowing tradition of other leakers. And, yet, Reality Winner is charged under the Espionage Act. And, as we've also discussed for years, the Espionage Act explicitly blocks people from using the public interest or whistleblowing as a defense. Such information is simply inadmissable.

As Ed Snowden has now pointed out in response to the charges against Winner, this remains a huge threat to a free press.

Winner is accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance. For this act, she has been charged with violating the Espionage Act—a World War I era law meant for spies—which explicitly forbids the jury from hearing why the defendant acted, and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public's benefit. This often-condemned law provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest—whistleblowing—from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen.

The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press. As long as a law like this remains on the books in a country that values fair trials, it must be resisted.

Indeed. There are many arguments that this aspect of the Espionage Act is unconstitutional -- but that hasn't been tested in court, and it may never get tested in court. Even if it does, you never know how judges might rule. But it does seem quite problematic that a law that is explicitly designed to deal with literal spies sending information privately to our enemies is now regularly applied against whistleblowers releasing information for the public's benefit.

Filed Under: ed snowden, espionage act, free press, free speech, leakers, reality winner, whistleblowers

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 11:44am

    Re: The deep state's take: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. The value of this to Russian intelligence, however, is enormous. It reveals sources and methods -- not to us, of course, but to them, since they KNOW a priori what they did and when, and can thus intuit how they were caught.

    2. It is likely that all of this would come out anyway in due course as the numerous investigations into what is now completely obvious election-tampering by the Russian government proceed. However, it would probably be modified to avoid the problem in (1) above.

    3. Don't underestimate the significance of this Russian phishing campaign. Those of us who've worked in voter registration have long known that those databases -- maintained by local governments -- are highly vulnerable. We also know that election analysts have the voter demographics accurately modeled down to the precinct level, and sometimes beyond. An attacker in possession of those models and capable of manipulating voter databases is clearly capable of influencing election outcomes by making subtle changes: a middle initial here, a street address there, a birthdate there. Most of these would look like typographical errors; some of them would look like voter registration fraud (as opposed to voter fraud, which is quite different). All of them would combine to make it harder to people to vote, to force them to use provisional ballots, to wait in lines -- which many people can't do for long on a workday, to perhaps even be denied the vote.

    It wouldn't take much. Just a little bit here and there in key precincts in key counties in key states. The Presidential election could be flipped by disenfranchising a few hundred thousand people, perhaps less if the model is sufficiently accurate.

    So don't dismiss these Russian efforts as cursory. They weren't. They aren't. They're a very well-calculated move against the most vulnerable parts of the US voting system AND they're by no means over. (Why should they be? This administration has made it crystal clear that there will be no reprisals.)

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