WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. Ro Khanna and Thomas Massie today introduced bipartisan legislation to reform the Espionage Act. The bill would narrow the act to prevent the government from prosecuting journalists merely for obtaining or publishing classified information.
The following response can be attributed to Carrie DeCell, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
“We welcome this bill, which would provide important new protection for press freedom in the United States. It would provide crucial safeguards for national security journalists, enabling them to report on issues of indisputable interest to the public without fear of criminal liability. Congress should enact this bill and also provide additional protections to national-security whistleblowers.”
The bill significantly narrows the circumstances in which the Espionage Act can be deployed against the press, making clear that only those with authorized access to classified information, as well as foreign agents, are subject to direct liability under the act. Furthermore, the bill defines the term “foreign agent” relatively narrowly, mitigating the concern that the act could be used to sweep in members of foreign press organizations. While the bill provides crucial safeguards for reporters, it offers only very limited protections for whistleblowers, permitting them to pass classified information to Congress, the courts, intelligence-community inspectors general, and certain government agencies. But whistleblowers would still risk prosecution under the act if they disclosed official misconduct to the press or the public—even if they made every effort to safeguard the government’s legitimate secrets.
Read today’s bill here.
More on press-related prosecutions under the Espionage Act here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, firstname.lastname@example.org.