Legislation aimed at helping the United States prosecute WikiLeaks and other sources of leaked information was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) Tuesday.
“Julian Assange and his associates who have operated and supported WikiLeaks not only damaged US national security with their releases of classified documents, but also placed at risk countless lives, including those of our Nation’s intelligence sources around the world,” Rep. King, the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement.
“As international pressure has held back Assange, we now find that his colleagues are planning to spin off a new website called OpenLeaks, dedicated to the same dangerous conduct.”
The bill, known as the the SHIELD Act, would amend the Espionage Act to make publishing classified information “concerning the identity of a classified source or informant of an element of the intelligence community” an act of espionage.
Sens. John Ensign (R-NV), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA) introduced similar legislation in the Senate last week.
“These organizations are a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States,” Rep. King continued. “Julian Assange and his compatriots are enemies of the US and should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. This legislation provides the Attorney General with additional authority to do just that.”
Applying the Espionage Act to third-party publishers of classified information would violate protected speech rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned in December 2010.
“If the Espionage Act were to be applied to publishers, it would have the unconstitutional effect of infringing on the constitutionally protected speech rights of all Americans, and it would have a particularly negative effect on investigative journalism – a necessary and fundamental part of our democracy,” the ACLU said in a statement (.pdf).
“[W]e urge Congress to resist the urge to broaden the Espionage Act’s already overbroad proscriptions and, instead, to narrow the Act’s focus to those responsible for leaking properly classified information to the detriment of our national security,” the ACLU added. “Publishers who are not involved in the leaking of classified information should be praised by our society for their contributions to public discourse, not vilified as the co-conspirators of leakers with whom they have no criminal connection.”
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