Analysis: Assange Indictment

The following is an excerpt from “Does the Assange Indictment Endanger Press Freedom?” by Jake Laparruque

Yesterday, the Justice Department unsealed its indictment of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks—the organization that released classified materials on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a large trove of State Department cables—following his arrest by British police at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The rapid series of events has left constitutional law experts and journalists alike asking: Is this an isolated case of legitimate criminal charges being brought against someone who, independent of those charges, happens to be a controversial media figure, or does it constitute an attack on the free press?

Assange was not indicted for his publication of classified materials—an action that would have been an overt attack on press freedom of enormous consequence—but rather for allegedly conspiring with Chelsea Manning to attempt to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the nation’s main anti-hacking law. In broad terms, the act prohibits individuals from using computers to gain unauthorized access or exceed authorized access to data and information. The indictment alleges that Assange conspired with Manning to help her crack a password and use it to obtain unauthorized access to an administrator account in Department of Defense systems, which in turn would allow her to better conceal her removal of classified materials.

On its face this seems to clearly distinguish Assange’s activities from those protected by the First Amendment. Simply put, assisting in cracking passwords and appropriating an administrator’s role in a computer system is malicious hacking, and is in no way responsible or protected journalistic activity.

But the indictment also contains numerous troubling provisions. First, the indictment, seemingly without need, names a series of actions that are responsible journalistic conduct in describing the criminal charge against Assange. Notably, the indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy “Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure…including by removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between Assange and Manning” (paragraph 19), and “Assange and Manning used a special folder on a cloud drop box of WikiLeaks to transmit classified records” (paragraph 21).

You can read the rest of the article here: Indictment vs. Press Freedom

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