Senator Joe Lieberman has been the harshest critic of the Wikileaks cable leak, and has been very active in putting pressure on US companies to either block or cut ties with Wikileaks. Even if you support those actions and hate Wikileaks, you should still be worried about his other kneejerk reaction to Wikileaks: to introduce a bill that would extend the Espionage Act to make it illegal to publish certain leaked info, even after it’s been leaked. Not surprisingly, even without this law in place, Lieberman has publicly suggested that the NY Times may be guilty of some crime for publishing documents released by Wikileaks.
However, law professor Geoffrey R. Stone has done a nice job in that very same NY Times, explaining why Lieberman’s so-called “Shield Act” is almost certainly an unconstitutional restriction on speech and a clear violation of the First Amendment. Stone notes that it’s perfectly fine to say it’s illegal for government employees to leak documents — but to go beyond that and say that once that info is leaked, it’s a crime to publish that info, is clearly going beyond what the Constitution allows:
The First Amendment does not compel government transparency. It leaves the government extraordinary autonomy to protect its own secrets. It does not accord anyone the right to have the government disclose information about its actions or policies, and it cedes to the government considerable authority to restrict the speech of its own employees. What it does not do, however, is allow the government to suppress the free speech of others when it has failed to keep its own secrets.
We might think of this like the attorney-client privilege. If a lawyer reveals his client’s confidences to a reporter, he can be punished for violating that privilege — but the newspaper cannot constitutionally be punished for publishing the information.
Hopefully enough of our elected officials recognize this, and Lieberman’s bill goes nowhere fast.
- The Fight Over Wikileaks and the Freedom of the Press (censorshipinamerica.wordpress.com)
- Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Faces Extradition to The U.S. (censorshipinamerica.wordpress.com)