I’ve always been interested in the US obsession with prosecuting Julia Assange. Yes, I know that Wikileaks have in the past published information it has received that has embarrassed or comprised national security of the US. What though is this prosecution based upon?
First, why am I writing about this? I see a lot of #FreeJulian hashtags in my Twitter timeline, daily. I’ve read various stories about it over several years. I’m not a lawyer and honestly, I don’t consider myself to have a horse in this race.
Next, and probably most important, this prosecution, if it ever happens, could have broad implications as to the freedom of the press.
It seems that the US wants to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act. Looking at the act itself, it seems that there are 3 possible statutory violations of Title 18 that Assange and Wikileaks may have broached here, here, and here.
What about 1st Amendment protections? Depending on the source, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. There’s this article which states that the 1st amendment protects the press for legally obtained information but not for that which was illegally gathered. That’s just ridiculous as the amendment makes no such distinction. There’s another article I read, which I won’t link that’s equally dumb: Assange has no 1st Amendment protection because he’s not an American citizen. Again, the 1st Amendment makes no such distinction between press outlets in the US versus any other country.
The US government attempted to restrict the freedom of the press decades ago (1971) in the Pentagon Papers case that went before the US Supreme Court. They failed.
It seems then the only argument that the Justice Department might bring is that Wikileaks itself, doesn’t qualify as being a press outlet. But here’s what the organization says about itself. It appears Wikileaks believes it has a journalistic purpose.
Suppose there is an actual prosecution and a conviction in this case. Imagine the case is appealed to the Supreme Court and the conviction is upheld. What would this mean for those people that blog or even vlog? Would their 1st Amendment rights be upheld if the government decided that what they published was unfriendly, embarrassing, etc?
As I said above, this case could be detrimental to anyone, even established news organizations. I’ll leave everyone with this question: Do we really want the government, any government, determining who’s a valid news source or not?