The U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama has initiated more prosecutions of national security “leakers” than all other administrations did combined. It has also secured much more jail time for convicted leakers than all other presidents have, including a 35-year sentence for Chelsea Manning. These investigations have not been limited to the leakers themselves. In one investigation, the FBI sought a search warrant against a reporter as a co-conspirator for simply asking a source to provide information.
Freedom of the press is one of the most important safeguards of our liberty. The modern national security state has unprecedented authority to keep secrets, which it often uses to hide waste, fraud, abuse, and even illegality from the American public. Were it not for aggressive national security and political reporting, we would never have found out about the use of torture post-9/11, the existence of “black site” prisons, the drone strike targeted-killing program, or, of course, the Watergate scandal.
The ACLU continues to play a central role in the courts and Congress in protecting reporters from aggressive leak investigations and defending the ability of whistleblowers to reveal information about government wrongdoing. For instance, we are legal counsel to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. We were also integral in securing new guidelines at the Department of Justice that, while not perfect, will still limit the department’s ability to investigate journalists for just doing their job.