With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy

For much of its history, the United States has held itself out as a model of freedom, democracy, and open, accountable government. Freedoms of expression and association, as well as rights to a fair trial, are protected by the Constitution, and US officials speak with pride of the freedom of the media to report on matters of public concern and hold government to account for its actions. Yet, as this report documents, today those freedoms are very much under threat due to the government’s own policies concerning secrecy, leak prevention, and officials’ contact with the media, combined with large-scale surveillance programs. If the US fails to address these concerns promptly and effectively, it could do serious, long-term damage to the fabric of democracy in the country.

Specifically, this report documents the effects of large-scale electronic surveillance on the practice of journalism and law, professions that enjoy special legal protections because they are integral to the safeguarding of rights and transparency in a democracy. To document these effects, we interviewed 92 people, including 46 journalists and 42 lawyers, about their concerns and the ways in which their behavior has changed in light of revelations of largescale surveillance. We also spoke to current and former senior government officials who have knowledge of the surveillance programs to understand their perspective, seek additional information, and take their concerns into account in our analysis.

Whether reporting valuable information to the public, representing another’s legal interests, or voluntarily associating with others in order to advocate for changes in policy, it is often crucial to keep certain information private from the government. In the face of a massively powerful surveillance apparatus maintained by the US government, however, that privacy is becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to ensure. As a result, journalists and their sources, as well as lawyers and their clients, are changing their behavior in ways that undermine basic rights and corrode democratic processes.

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