The proposed SHIELD Act is anti-shield law

Decades after the passing of the Espionage Act in 1917, lawmakers are being forced to shake the dust off this old law and redefine the term “national security.” The WikiLeaks “document dump” in December 2010 opened a set of double doors to the national security world (and consequently to the inherent First Amendment freedoms at stake). WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange are seen as either heroes or hackers. The First Amendment could either be strengthened or weakened. And transparency could become a trend or a threat. The bottom line, though, is that journalism took a hit, and legislators are exploiting it.

For years, journalists have been fighting for a federal shield law, which would protect our rights not to disclose anonymous sources. In 2009, we came close when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a shield law called the Free Flow of Information Act. Not surprisingly, the act never got to the Senate, and died at the close of the 111th Congress.

The first page of the SHIELD Act, introduced to the Senate on Dec 2, 2010. Leaking classified intelligence information is already a crime, but this act proposes to also criminalize publishers of previously-leaked information.

Now, Senator Lieberman and other legislators are back with their own proposed SHIELD Act – the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act. It sounds like a shield law and it looks like “shield” law, but it is an entirely different animal. It “…expands the list of classified information considered to be criminal to publish, and it labels anyone who disseminates it as a ‘transnational threat,'” according to an article by Hagit Limor in Quill.

The SHIELD Act is not a shield for journalists or their sources. It is a shield for the government and a shield for secrecy. It shuts out freedom of information and throws a veil over transparency. And it is a direct response to the WikiLeaks scandal.

The double doors are open. But government leaders are already proposing to close and lock them. This is an opportunity for journalism to rush in and protect the First Amendment. If anything, we should be fighting harder for a shield law because we can be heard, because we will not give up on our source protections and because this is our chance.

“National security” has to be redefined. It could go either way. And the doors are open…

Emma Morehart, OUSPJ Treasurer

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One thought on “The proposed SHIELD Act is anti-shield law

  1. How is this act seeking to protect classified information from hurting the United States, her allies, and her people a bad thing? Why do you assume journalists are always honest and have proper justification to use sources to leak classified information? Your rights will only be infringed upon if you are engaged in leaking classified information, nothing more nothing less. Unless there is a drastically different version of the bill I have not read this entire article by OU SPJ is a complete waste of time.

    Not only is this a waste of time, but it is highly amusing to see your obvious spin on this issue. You quote things from the article, but none of them support your claim that the rights we have as Americans guaranteed by the Constitution are in jeopardy. Not once do you link to any article or evience in support of the act. It would be nice to see some impartiality and an honest debate using the actual act to backup the argument. Try to blog using journalistic standards that use evidence when making an argument like this.

    http://www.thomas.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.703:

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