Is WikiLeaks a news outlet? The answer to that question could determine the direction of online news. The New York Times, you’ll recall, was able to claim privileges of the Fourth Estate when it published the classified Pentagon Papers decades ago. Does that privilege also extend to an organization whose chief purpose is to spew classified information from servers around the world?
NPR had a fascinating interview today with Floyd Abrams, the guy who defended the NYT back then, and he made a compelling case that WikiLeaks could potentially be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917, which bars “unauthorized” people from possessing classified information ”they have reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States”.
That, in fact, is exactly what WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange wants to do: hurt the United States. The NYT could (and did) argue that it published the Pentagon Papers for the greater good.
It’s one thing to go after the U.S. for prosecuting a controversial war in Afghanistan. It’s another to publish every diplomatic message you can get your hands on, especially if it strains or fractures U.S. relationships with allies all over the world.
If the Justice Dept. goes after Assange (once Sweden’s done accusing him of rape), it will be interesting to see how the courts and free speech advocates deal with it.
Floyd Abrams Interview: http://n.pr/e2VPRd