The DePaulia

Filed under Opinions

OPINION: What free-speech advocates need to know about Assange

Wikileaks+founder+Julian+Assange+after+being+arrested+by+British+police+and+removed+from+the+Ecuadorian+embassy.
Back to Article
Back to Article

OPINION: What free-speech advocates need to know about Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after being arrested by British police and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after being arrested by British police and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Hannah McKay | Reuters

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after being arrested by British police and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Hannah McKay | Reuters

Hannah McKay | Reuters

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after being arrested by British police and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The high-profile international news coverage of federal charges aimed at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has brought attention to issues of press freedom in an age of digital information security concerns and increased use of government power to pursue whistleblowers and journalists.

Digital tools make infiltration of secured databases difficult to track and possible from anywhere around the world. Therefore, the Assange case raises new important questions about the constitutional rights of sources who share digital files of classified information in the public interest and the legal responsibilities of outlets, traditional or not, to whom they leak files.

Assange drew international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks started posting classified documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who had downloaded files from a classified computer network. Then in 2016, WikiLeaks published stolen emails by Democratic Party operatives that the Russian government hacked as part of an operation to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and benefit Donald Trump.

The questions of which laws the government says Assange broke, how he will be prosecuted for his alleged crimes, and under what statutes he may yet be charged are key considerations for free speech advocates.

For starters, WikiLeaks seeks out and publishes information that powerful people would rather keep secret, including classified national security materials, and attempts to protect its sources. That’s generally the same approach that investigative reporters at traditional news organizations follow and those practices are immunized by the First Amendment.

The indictment unsealed on April 11 charges Assange with actions beyond what a journalist is legally permitted. The government says Assange conspired to commit unlawful computer intrusion working in cooperation with Manning to break code to permit her to log into a classified military network under a false identity.

Conventional journalists aren’t protected by the First Amendment if they break the law in the process of reporting the news, but they can receive and publish information like what WikiLeaks posted if it serves the public’s interest. This constitutional protection comes from the 2001 Supreme Court case of Bartnicki v. Vopper, which established that journalists can publish news about political issues even if that information was obtained illegally by the source so long as the journalist did not participate in the illegal acquisition. It remains to be seen if that same standard would be applied to classified information, particularly material deemed crucial to national security.

Right now, prosecutors are not pursuing Assange on speech-related charges. However, in the Obama and Trump administrations, the government has been quite active in charging officials with leaking information to reporters under the century-old Espionage Act. Of the 13 Espionage Act prosecutions in U.S. history, nine have come in the past decade.

A journalist has never been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but Manning’s 2013 court-martial conviction included espionage-related charges as Assange’s source. Assange is expected to fight extradition to the United States by arguing that his prosecution is politically motivated, meaning a trial is not imminent.

Ultimately, the First Amendment protects the rights of people who commit legal acts of journalism, regardless of their political views and whether they are non-citizens or loathsome characters. Assange has spent almost seven years living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London avoiding extradition not only to the U.S. but also Sweden, where he faces charges of sexual assault.

Developments in his case, however slow, will be closely watched by journalism organizations and civil rights groups because of what Assange represents about all of our First Amendment freedoms.

Jason Martin, Ph.D., is associate professor and the chair of the Journalism Program in the College of Communication. His research and teaching focuses on press freedom and First Amendment protection for journalists.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “OPINION: What free-speech advocates need to know about Assange”

  1. Sam hunt on April 29th, 2019 12:59 pm

    My herpes is cured and it’s miracle healing. Thanks to Dr.ASAKASUKU who cure my Genital Herpes
    I was depressed when doctor told me that I have been diagnosed with Herpes disease… I thought about my Family, I know my Family will face a serious problem when I’m gone, I lost hope and I wept all day, but one day I was searching the internet I found Dr.ASAKASUKU contact number. +2349064038282 called him and he guided me. I asked him for solutions and he started the remedies for my health. Thank God, now everything is fine, I’m cured by Dr.ASAKASUKU medicine, I’m very thankful to Dr.ASAKASUKU and very happy with my hubby and family. email him on drasakasukuherbalsolutionhome@gmail.com or you can also reach him through Whats App number+2349064038282
    He can also cure so many sickness
    {1}HIV And AIDS
    {2}Diabetes
    {3}Epilepsy
    {4}Blood Cancer
    {5}HPV
    {7}ALS
    {8}Hepatitis {9}Low spam count. {10}Fibroid. {11}pregnancy.

  2. Nancy May on May 3rd, 2019 4:03 pm

    Hey everyone!
    Today I come to you with so much excitement!
    I have been married & barren for 5years i had no child. i have never been pregnant i was a subject of laughter from my Friends & neighbors, i almost lost my marriage because of this issue . i was so confused that i did not know what to do until i came across this great Dr Ahmed online and i contacted him at once i was scared weather it was going to work because i never believed things like this before, so i decided to give it a try and i did all what Dr Ahmed asked of me and today to my greatest surprise i took in the first time and i gave birth to a bouncing baby boy and now my marriage that was about crashing before is now restored. my husband now love and want me better, Am so happy for everything that have been happening my life since i met this Dr Ahmed.
    I want to tell all the women out there who have a similar situation like that the world is not over YET they should dry up their tears and contact this great man and their problem will be gone or are you also having other problems you can also contact Dr Ahmed, here is how you can contact him Ahmedutimate@gmail.com or Contact him via his whats-app number +2348160153829.
    Thanks

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Left
Navigate Right
The Student News Site of DePaul University
OPINION: What free-speech advocates need to know about Assange