ACLU Says Third-Party Publishers Entitled To First Amendment Protection

December 16, 2010 12:00 am

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Testimony For House Judiciary Committee Hearing On WikiLeaks Says Espionage Act Should Be Narrowed, Not Expanded

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today submitted testimony for a congressional hearing on the constitutional issues surrounding the proposed prosecution of WikiLeaks for its publication of government documents and a proposal to expand the Espionage Act. The ACLU’s testimony warned of First Amendment concerns that would surround any efforts to prosecute a third-party publisher of classified information and warned that broadening the Espionage Act would exacerbate the First Amendment deficiencies already in the current law.

The following excerpts from the ACLU’s written testimony can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office and Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Legislative Chief of Staff and First Amendment Counsel, the authors of the testimony:

“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.

“In the current environment, it would be all too easy for inflamed public passions to serve as the basis for arguments to justify broadening even further the proscriptions of the law. Instead, Congress should stand clear-eyed and firm against arguments based on passion, not reason – and narrow the Espionage Act to those who leak properly classified information.

“[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.”

A copy of the ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

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