A whistleblower who called himself (or herself, we still don’t know) “John Doe.” He anonymously leaked 2.6 terabytes of data to us. (We try not to think about what the drug dealers, dictators and organized crime figures would do to John Doe, if they could find him.) His life, his job and his family are still at risk because he saw corruption and decided to try to remedy it.
“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all,” Noam Chomsky once said.
Thor Benson says It’s also to protect an industry, the free press, from the kind of top-down interference that could inhibit them from exposing those in power.
The first time the espionage act was ever challenged in the US Supreme Court was in 1919. The case, Schenck v. United States, focused on a Jewish Socialist Party of America leader named Charles T. Schenck.
This is the case in which the most extreme form of free speech absolutism faced its famous counterargument: You can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre. It was a point made by the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
What Holmes failed to mention is that there was a fire in the theatre.
During this time, Americans were largely misinformed about what was actually happening during World War I. The bloodshed was far greater and the war more treacherous than they had been led to believe. When Schenck coordinated anti-war messaging, he was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, which criminalized any efforts to impede the nation’s war actions.
Some argue that these whistle-blowers deserve to be punished for giving classified information to journalists because they say it risks national security. What this line of reasoning fails to take into account is that the whistle-blower system—which ideally would minimize national security risks—is broken.
Whistle-blowers are supposed to be protected if they reveal sensitive information about the government that shows, for instance, that an agency is breaking the law. We are currently in a place where whistle-blowers are instead punished for their efforts, which can cause them to leak to the press instead of going through the traditional whistle-blowing channels.
Edward Snowden, who also faces charges under the Espionage Act, tried to be a whistle-blower while he was working for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He was rebuffed—both by the NSA and by the laws that disqualify contractors from whistle-blower protections.
If the government makes it prohibitively difficult to correctly blow the whistle, and if a law that was written over 100 years ago is being used to threaten the free press and those who would expose corruption and illegal acts, then it’s time to kill that law and resuscitate a robust, democracy-enhancing whistle-blower system. Surely our federal government can prosecute alleged enemies of the state without this 100-year-old law, which was written by people who couldn’t possibly have anticipated where technology and national security, in general, would be today. Furthermore, we must fix the whistle-blower system so that those who see something illegal happening in the government can say something without facing time in prison or other life-altering consequences.
Interesting Read: How the US Military Controls America?
The internal data from the dubious Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed how dictators, drug cartels, mafia clans, fraudsters, weapons dealers and regimes like North Korea and Iran use offshore shell companies to hide their shady business transactions. The publication of investigations based on the papers brought down prime ministers in Iceland and Pakistan triggered mass demonstrations and launched criminal trials around the world. Laws have changed and oversight committees have been adopted in numerous countries. The Panama Papers have helped tax authorities recover several hundred million dollars in unpaid taxes and penalties.
All this began with just one individual and his courage:
If a leak serves the national interest, and it does not endanger national security, it should be celebrated, not condemned. Yet the state has the machinery to suppress it and to send a powerful message to anyone else who would dare serve their country by informing us of what we need to know. This should not be. It is time to kill the Espionage Act.
Read Full Article: It Is Time To Kill The Espionage Act in Medium