Journalists may be hesitant to see Julian Assange as one of their own, but US charges against him could imperil all reporters.
NEW YORK — Thursday’s arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London has sparked heated debate among journalists over whether his legal battles following a likely extradition to the U.S. should be feared as an attack on the press.
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, thinks so, saying his arrest “sets a dangerous precedent for all media,” but not everyone in media is eager to defend Assange as one of their own.
New York Times cybersecurity reporter Sheera Frenkel took to Twitter to note that Assange not only interacted with a source offering classified information — in this case, former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning — but may have taken active measures to obtain that information himself, a line Frenkel said she’d never cross.
Liza Goitein co-directs the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“If in fact the government can prove that Assange tried to crack a password to break into a government computer system, that’s different — that’s not protected by the First Amendment, that’s a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and that’s a charge I would be comfortable with.”
But Thursday’s indictment went a step further, holding Assange liable for having “encouraged Manning to provide information,” something Goitein says all reporters do.
“This is unprecedented. No person has ever been prosecuted in the United States for publishing classified information that was obtained through a leak.
There has always been a line between the leaker — who is a government official who has a responsibility and signed a contract saying he or she will not leak classified information — and the publisher, who is presumed to have a First Amendment right to publish information that he or she comes across, however he or she comes across it.
If Julian Assange can be put in prison for doing that, then any reporter can be put in prison for doing that.”