The report blames the NSA for whistleblower fears, but even before the Snowden revelations the government committed acts that could only make people afraid to talk to the news media. The Department of Justice put taps on the phones of Associated Press journalists. They also breached the emails of James Rosen, the chief correspondent for Fox News, on the grounds that, by simply doing his First-Amendment-protected job, he was a possible criminal conspirator.
These were assaults on the media, especially the naming of a journalist as a possible criminal. But the important aspect of these cases was that people realized that the government was tapping the phones and reading the emails of journalists. What if someone had been telling one of those reporters important news that their government employer did not want them to reveal? What privacy do they really have?
All of this started before the NSA’s spying was revealed. Now a couple of reports have come out about the effects of knowledge of the NSA on journalists. Associated Press reports,
Revelations over the past few years about how U.S. security officials have the ability to track people through phone, email and other electronic records are making it harder for journalists to report on what the government is doing, two human rights groups say.
Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report issued Monday that access to data as detailed in leaks by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, coupled with the Obama administration’s prosecution of people for leaking classified information, is having a chilling effect on reporters.
The groups are calling on the administration to be more upfront about the data it is collecting and how the information is used, and to increase protections for journalists and whistleblowers.
The same government access to information is eroding the ability of lawyers to protect the confidentiality of its contacts with criminal defendants, the report concludes.
Ninety-two people, including 46 journalists, 42 lawyers and some present or retired national security officials, were interviewed for the report.
While journalists are not being prosecuted for doing their jobs, news about the scope and type of information available to the government has forced many journalists to change how they work, said Alex Sinha, the report’s author. Several say that fewer sources are willing to talk to them because they fear the consequences, he said.
I am not interested in the government being restrained in order for journalists to have more freedom. How would anyone ever know where “the proper balance” is to be made? That is unworkable.
But I want my First Amendment back! The government can punish employees for leaking truly classified material, but they can’t prevent it by watching innocent Americans 24/7. The media’s job is to learn the government’s secrets. The First Amendment is, much like the jury trial as originally conceived, a license to the people to push back against government power to restrain potential tyranny.
By installing unconstitutional domestic surveillance, the NSA has pretty much destroyed the power of the press. Thus, by nullifying the Fourth Amendment they have practically nullified the First.
Of course, we know that the NSA is just fine with this.