Free press defenders waiting to hear details of government charges against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange

Documents surfaced November 16 indicating that the U.S government has filed charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, prompting concerns about threats to the free press. Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center cautioned that the Justice Department had made a distinction between those who steal and leak information and those who publish it. “To extend that line to include people who have never in any way signed away their First Amendment rights is incredibly dangerous,” she said. (The Associated Press, November 16, 2018, by Raphael Satter)

Trevor Timm, of The Freedom of the Press Foundation, November 16, 2018, expressed his dismay the Trump administration may be using the Espionage Act to pursue Assange. “Whether you like Assange or hate him, the theories used in a potential Espionage Act prosecution,” said Timm, “would threaten countless reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post, and the many other news outlets that report on government secrets all the time. While everyone will have to wait and see what the charges detail, it’s quite possible core First Amendment principles will be at stake in this case.”

But Joe Uchill, of Axios, November 27, 2018, said it is too soon to sound an alarm for the free press. It may well be the the charges against Wikileaks are not connected with the act of publishing but at Wikileaks’ directing the hack of an anti-Trump PAC and sharing a stolen password with the Trump administration in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

For related FAC coverage of Wikileaks, click here and here.


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