On Thursday, the Department of Justice unsealed new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Unlike the previous indictment—which focused narrowly on an apparent offer to help crack a password—the 17 superseding counts focus instead on alleged violations of the Espionage Act. In doing so, the DOJ has aimed a battering ram at the freedom of the press, whether you think Assange is a journalist or not.
The indictment, which you can read in full below, alleges that Assange published classified information over a dozen times, an act expressly forbidden by the Espionage Act, which Congress first passed in 1917. But the Espionage Act has only rarely, and never successfully, been applied to the recipient of a leak. “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information,” says Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment.”
The Trump administration’s position that the Espionage Act should apply here would have immediate and broadly-felt repercussions far beyond WikiLeaks. Because however you personally care to classify Assange, the acts at the heart of this latest indictment mirror those made by journalists every day. They’re the reason US citizens know about PRISM, and the Pentagon Papers, and any number of other revelations around abuses of power and governmental impropriety. [Continue reading…]