Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

biden-doj-antitrust

A sign for the Department of Justice is seen ahead of a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. on January 12, 2021. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Major News Outlets Must Push DOJ to Drop Assange Charges

The prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange constitutes the most clear and present danger to this country's press freedom rights.

Three major news organizations are set to meet with the the Department of Justice (DOJ) today to discuss the recent journalist surveillance scandals, and talk with the Attorney General Merrick Garland about how the DOJ plans to to prevent the use of subpoenas and surveillance to root out journalistic sources in future leak investigations.

While the news outlets plan to push for more concrete promises from the Justice Department to prevent further spying on reporters, it's vitally important that the same publishers use today's opportunity to press the Attorney General to drop the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which constitutes the most clear and present danger to this country's press freedom rights. If the case continues, it would render Garland's new promises worthless.

Assange is charged under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, largely for activities U.S. national security journalists engage in all the time. When the Trump administration proceeded with the indictment, many major news publishers spoke out forcefully against it, despite harshly criticizing Assange in the past. Virtually every major human rights and civil liberties group in the country urged Biden's DOJ not to continue with the prosecution earlier this year.

As stakeholders hammer out the details of this new rule, we urge the news organizations and the self-described press freedom advocates within the administration to consider the danger of pending Espionage Act charges against a publisher.

Beyond the injustice of the case itself, though, its precedent threatens to undermine the very same new rules that publishers will discuss today. As Garland said in Senate testimony Wednesday: "In developing this policy, we have to distinguish between reporters doing their jobs and reporters committing crimes unrelated to the leaking."

If the Justice Department is promising on the one hand not to use subpoenas against journalists unless they are otherwise engaged in a crime, and on the other hand is laying out the blueprint for charging journalists who report on sensitive national security information, the problem could not be more clear.

We are cautiously optimistic about the new Department of Justice rules, pending final language, and we view their introduction as a possible sea change for press freedom in the United States. We absolutely encourage the news organizations meeting today to push for the strongest possible guidelines, and for Congress to codify those guidelines into law that cannot be changed at the stroke of a future president's pen.

But we also must remain vigilant to loopholes and exceptions to these new guidelines, and expect this and future administrations to interpret the rules as they see fit. With the Knight First Amendment Institute, we've written about one major unknown in terms of who constitutes a "journalist" for the purpose of the guidelines.

Today, as stakeholders hammer out the details of this new rule, we urge the news organizations and the self-described press freedom advocates within the administration to consider the danger of pending Espionage Act charges against a publisher. And we continue to urge the Department of Justice to drop the prosecution.


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Parker Higgins

Parker Higgins

Parker Higgins is an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in issues at the intersection of freedom of speech and copyright, trademark, and patent law.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Nearly 300 Artists, Celebrities Demand Hollywood End 'Disturbing' Support for Big Pharma's Vaccine Monopolies

"It is absurd that some of the associations that claim to represent creators' interests are instead fighting for Big Pharma."

Jake Johnson ·


As Omicron Emerges in US, GOP Accused of Trying to 'Sabotage Our Pandemic Response'

One Democratic lawmaker said Republicans' plot to shut down the federal government over a vaccination rule is "extraordinarily cynical and dangerous."

Jake Johnson ·


Watch: Bernie Sanders Hosts 'Saving American Democracy' Town Hall

"Republicans in state after state are working to make it harder and harder to vote. We can't let them succeed."

Common Dreams staff ·


As SCOTUS Considers 'Extinguishing' Right to Abortion, Calls Mount for Congress to 'Step Up'

"Despite the protections that the legal framework like Roe provides, it has never been enough," said one doctor. "We continue to work toward reproductive justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Time to Get the Job Done': Stacey Abrams Launches New Georgia Gubernatorial Bid

"Now more than ever, it's clear Brian Kemp's days as governor are numbered."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo