Featured Article

National security journalism just became a national security threat

U.S. charges against Julian Assange will threaten press freedom

Comment

Image Credits: Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Six years ago, British intelligence officers walked into the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London and demanded its staff destroy computers they believed stored highly classified documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the basement of the newspaper’s offices, editors used angle-grinders and drills to destroy the computers in an effort to render its data unusable after “weeks of tense negotiations” between the newspaper and the British government, which faced pressure from U.S. authorities to return the leaked top secret documents. The U.S. and Britain are close intelligence sharing partners. Despite the fact that there were several copies of the NSA documents — including in the U.S — the newspaper faced a threat of punitive legal action or prosecution if they declined.

“The only way of protecting the Guardian’s team was for the paper to destroy its own computers,” said Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist.

In the years of citing this case in why press freedoms are so important, the Americans always respond: “Wait, that happened?”

The Guardian’s situation would never happen in the U.S. It’s not uncommon for national security reporters to obtain classified information or rely on government employees providing secret information, particularly to uncover abuses of power or the law. As the only named profession in the U.S. constitution, the U.S. press is a shining example of holding the powers to account no matter what.

But the most recent charges laid against Julian Assange has put those press freedoms under threat.

Julian Assange, widely regarded as a liar, a proponent of misinformation, and loathed by many for generally being a shitbag, has been defended by some of his biggest critics since the latest round of charges were announced against him.

Assange last week became the first person to be charged for publishing classified information under the Espionage Act, a law that predates the Great Depression by an entire decade, and used to prosecute foreign spies and government whistleblowers.

“This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do,” said Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and former government lawyer, in a post on Lawfare.

In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done. In 2017, following the fifth security lapse at NSA in as many years, I obtained and published classified documents relating to the government’s Ragtime program and the Red Disk intelligence sharing platform. While it’s not unheard of for reporters to face government investigations for doing their jobs, not a single journalist has been charged for obtaining or publishing classified information in the past hundred years since the Espionage Act became law.

It’s no surprise that the indictment has rattled news organizations and reporters, who have published classified information like off-grid torture sites and global government surveillance provided by anonymous sources and whistleblowers, for fear they may also suffer a similar prosecution.

Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in a statement: “Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed. With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”

Assange, through WikiLeaks, published numerous troves of highly classified diplomatic cables and military videos showing the killing of civilians including a Reuters camera crew, provided by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was herself charged under the act and imprisoned before her sentence was later commuted. The government’s latest indictment accused Assange of publishing “unredacted names of human sources,” which “risked serious harm to United States national security.”

Some of Assange’s most vocal critics have said the U.S. is prosecuting Assange for “the last good thing he did”. Since his publications, Assange has sullied his own name and reputation, not least by working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing embarrassing stolen emails.

None of that has any bearing on the charges of publishing classified material.

The Justice Department said Assange is “no journalist.” But the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and press freedoms, doesn’t distinguish between whether someone is a journalist or not.

“The First Amendment gives journalists no special rights,” says national security lawyer Elizabeth Goitein. in a Washington Post op-ed. “In prohibiting abridgments of ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ it gives equal protection to those who speak, those who write, those who report, and those who publish.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Assange is a journalist or not.

Under U.S. law, all — regardless of whether a person is a reporter or not — are protected by the same freedoms. With a successful prosecution of Assange, there’s nothing stopping the U.S. government from laying charges against any other American — journalist or otherwise — for receiving and publishing classified information.

“This is not about Julian Assange,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent lawmaker and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information.”

“Assange’s case could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the kinds of activities that the First Amendment does not protect — a precedent that could chill even the most careful, skilled professional journalists from pursuing stories involving national security secrets,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, in an op-ed.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Obama administration considered bringing charges against Assange years ago but was concerned that the charges would prosecute conduct “too similar” to that of reporters at established news organizations.

But now that the Trump administration has brought charges against Assange, journalists once branded by the president the “enemy of the people” could soon be treated as enemies of the state.

Bloomberg’s spy chip story reveals the murky world of national security reporting

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo