The century-old tradition that the Espionage Act not be used against journalistic activities has now been broken. Seventeen new charges were filedyesterday against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. These new charges make clear that he is being prosecuted for basic journalistic tasks, including being openly available to receive leaked information, expressing interest in publishing information regarding certain otherwise secret operations of government, and then disseminating newsworthy information to the public. The government has now dropped the charade that this prosecution is only about hacking or helping in hacking. Regardless of whether Assange himself is labeled a “journalist,” the indictment targets routine journalistic practices.
But the indictment is also a challenge to fundamental principles of freedom of speech. As the Supreme Court has explained, every person has the right to disseminate truthful information pertaining to matters of public interest, even if that information was obtained by someone else illegally. The indictment purports to evade this protection by repeatedly alleging that Assange simply “encouraged” his sources to provide information to him. This places a fundamental free speech right on uncertain and ambiguous footing….[ ]