Senate Anti-Leaks Bill Threatens the Rights of the Press and the Public
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The US Senate is currently debating a dangerous bill that, if passed, would have broad consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know. EFF asks senators to stand up for government transparency and the First Amendment and vote it down.
The bill’s provisions, buried in the annual Intelligence Authorization Act, are intended to stop leaks of classified information to reporters—a premise worrying in itself—but it is written so sloppily it will also severely impair government transparency and prevent the media from reporting on national security issues.
The problems with this bill are extensive and severe. As the New York Times pointed out in an unusually forceful editorial last Friday, it has been “drafted in secret without public hearings” and bars most government employees from giving press background briefings, even if the information is unclassified—vital for media organizations when reporting on complex issues. Another provision prohibits officials from writing op-eds or appearing on television, again, even if the information is unclassified—a clear prohibition on protected speech.
Classification expert Steven Aftergood documented several specific problems with the bill’s broad definitions, most notably that the bill doesn’t differentiate between properly and improperly classified information. Even the Freedom of Information Act, which carries a broad exception for classified information. insists it must be “properly classified.”