US Congressmen Ron Wyden and Ro Khanna have introduced amendments to their country's 1917 Espionage Act which would stop journalists like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from being prosecuted for revealing government secrets. The Espionage Act Reform Act of 2020 explicitly protects journalists from prosecution who "solicit, obtain, or publish" government secrets .
"This bill ensures only personnel with security clearances can be prosecuted for improperly revealing classified information", Wyden, the long-time Democratic Party Senator from Oregan, said in a statement.
"Our nation’s strength rests on the freedom of the press, transparency, and a functioning system of checks and balances. This bill is a step toward ensuring those same principles apply to intelligence gathering and surveillance operations", California Democratic Party Senator Khanna said, on 5 March.
According to a summary of the law, "every single person convicted, to date, under the Espionage Act could still have been convicted had this bill been the law at the time they were prosecuted". The document does say the reforms would nonetheless make it easier for whistleblowers to raise concerns with regulators such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and the US congress without fear of criminal prosecution.
Even good faith revelations to regulators and political representatives can, under certain circumstances, result in violating the law.
The same document says that it would still be possible for Assange to be prosecuted, even with these reforms, though the two senators have since clarified that that would only be in respect of his alleged assistance to US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning's failed attempt to crack a password hash. Assange's defence team revealed on 25 February 2020 that the password cracking discussion between Assange and Manning only related to helping the intelligence officer access a gaming and music site, which is normally blocked by the US military.
Assange, a multiple award-winning journalist, editor and publisher, remains incarcerated in Britain's maximum-security Belmarsh prison while he challenges his extradition to the US. American authorities have charged him with 18 espionage related charges, 17 of which are under the 1917 Espionage Act. All of the charges relate to his role in publishing classified US documents in 2010 and 2011 which revealed war crimes and other abuses committed by US-led forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and US-occupied Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with historic diplomatic cables.