WikiLeaks, the Proposed SHIELD Act, and the First Amendment

The release of formerly classified documents and government cables by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks in 2010 poses a dilemma. The government often has exclusive possession of information about its policies, programs, processes, and activities that would be of great value to informed public debate. But government officials often insist that such information be kept secret, even from those to whom they are accountable –the American people. How should we resolve this dilemma? The issue is complex and has many dimensions.

Following release of the documents, the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination (SHIELD) Act was introduced in Congress. The proposed legislation would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States, “any classified information . . . concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States or . . . concerning the identity of a classified source or informant” working with the intelligence community of the United States.

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