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. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Re: New record?

    We have already done it once before.

    Once? It's been going on for decades now! It's been The Model of American Presidential Politics for longer than a significant number of voters have been alive.

    Remember Bush Sr? He famously promised, "Read my lips, no new taxes," and then he broke his promise and the people got sick of him and threw him out.

    They elected a new guy who was essentially the anti-Bush: young, hip, and charismatic. And unfortunately also thoroughly corrupt and a sexual predator to boot. His presidency was one long mess of one scandal after another. (Everyone remembers Monica Lewinsky; remember all the rest of them?) And after 8 years of that, the American people were sick of it, and they threw him out.

    Of course, it seems utterly bizarre now, but do you remember what Bush Jr.'s campaign platform was, the first time around? "I will restore dignity to the White House." It was sorely needed, and he did a great job of portraying himself as the anti-Clinton, so we elected him. We all remember how that went, though: he was utterly incompetent and in way over his head, especially after 9/11, and the Bush Jr. presidency turned out to be worse than the Clinton presidency. After 8 years of him screwing things up, we got sick of it and threw him out.

    Well, you can guess what happened next, right? Yup: we elected the guy who managed to portray himself as the Anti-Bush. Hope and Change and all that. Well, things certainly changed, but it's been mostly more of the same changes we were getting through the Bush years: changes for the worse. The Obama administration was even worse than the Bush Jr. administration, and after 8 years of him screwing things up... well, it's not hard to guess what happened in the next election: we threw him out and brought in the guy who did the best job of portraying himself as the Anti-Obama. (His opponent being one of the worst presidential candidates in living memory didn't hurt either!)

    And now everything's proceeding exactly on schedule: Trump's already showing himself to be even worse than Obama in virtually every area. And if we keep it up, we're likely going to throw him out and elect a (probably much younger) Democrat whose only real qualification is that he does a good job of depicting himself as the Anti-Trump, and he'll end up being even worse. (My best guess at the moment, based on media rumblings and rumors: Mark Zuckerberg.) Heck, it may not even take 8 years this time!

    Scary fact: Bill Clinton was first elected President in 1993. The newest voters back then were born in 1975. Those people turn 42 this year. For anyone under the age of 42, this is essentially the only pattern they have ever known! And it'll probably keep happening until we finally elect a new President for who they are, rather than who they're not.


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