With the growth of social media and other modern communications technology, the right of government employees to free speech in and out of the workforce, and to a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications and effects, has faced significant threat. 

In particular, the government has aggressively investigated and prosecuted national security whistleblowers and sought to chill disclosures to the media that are merely embarrassing or revealing of government waste, fraud, or illegality. Similarly, private sector employees continue to face arbitrary discipline and privacy intrusions, especially when it comes to speech central to collective bargaining.

The ACLU has long sought to defend the free speech and privacy rights of public employees. We represent National Security Agency surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden. We strongly support the Free Flow of Information Act (a bill to protect confidential sources) and oppose proposals to limit media contact with elements of the intelligence community. We also work to protect private employees’ free speech rights, especially in the case of laws limiting labor organizing.

While the First Amendment applies only to state action, the values that animate our right to free speech and free association apply to all of us, regardless of where we work. The marketplace of ideas works only if we are all free to speak vigorously and without fear about the issues of the day. This often happens in the workplace, so employee speech and privacy must be protected.

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