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3 Senators and 3 Representatives Move to Criminalize Investigative Journalism

Should a journalist who finds out that the CIA has been torturing its detainees, and then writes a newspaper article sharing this information, be sent to prison for 10 years?

Should a journalist who finds out that the Iranian secret police has been torturing its detainees, and then writes a newspaper article sharing this information, be sent to prison for 10 years?

That would be the law if the Shield Act (S. 4004 in the Senate and H.R. 6506 in the House) were passed.

It is already a crime to leak classified information. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether people outside government — journalists, bloggers, writers, everyday citizens — who find out about state secrets like torture, disappearances, assassinations, or even cutting comments — can write about those secrets. The bill would not only make it a crime to write about the U.S. government’s dirty secrets; it would make it a crime to write about any foreign government’s dirty secrets too. More than this, you could be thrown in prison for 10 years for the simple act of passing on such news stories to others. If the Shield Act passes, then when you read a Washington Post expose on human rights abuses at Bagram Air Force base and decide to send it on to Aunt Mildred by e-mail, you would be committing a felony.

I’m not exaggerating. Read the bills for yourself, and also read this excellent article by Benjamin Wittes to place the Shield Act in its legal context.

The 6 Senators and Representatives who have signed their names to the Shield Act in support of making journalism a crime are:

Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts
John Ensign, Republican of Nevada
Joseph Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut
Rep. Peter King, Republican of New York
Rep. Tom Latham, Republican of Iowa
Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama

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