Prosecuting WikiLeaks For Publishing Documents Would Raise Serious Constitutional Concerns, Says ACLU

December 1, 2010
CONTACT: (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – According to news reports, the government is looking into whether it could prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for publishing classified government documents he obtained from a third party. WikiLeaks, along with multiple news outlets, published thousands of pages of U.S. diplomatic cables on Sunday. The American Civil Liberties Union said that prosecuting WikiLeaks would have serious First Amendment implications.

The following can be attributed to Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

“We’re deeply skeptical that prosecuting WikiLeaks would be constitutional, or a good idea. The courts have made clear that the First Amendment protects independent third parties who publish classified information. Prosecuting WikiLeaks would be no different from prosecuting the media outlets that also published classified documents. If newspapers could be held criminally liable for publishing leaked information about government practices, we might never have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the government spying on innocent Americans. Prosecuting publishers of classified information threatens investigative journalism that is necessary to an informed public debate about government conduct, and that is an unthinkable outcome.

“The broader lesson of the WikiLeaks phenomenon is that President Obama should recommit to the ideals of transparency he invoked at the beginning of his presidency. The American public should not have to depend on leaks to the news media and on whistleblowers to know what the government is up to.”

 

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