A law currently being considered by the US Congress could deem whistleblowing to be an “illegitimate” form of journalism and leave journalists without constitutional protections, it has been revealed.
The Free Flow of Information Act (FFIA or “Federal Shield Law”) would not consider organisations such as WikiLeaks or The Intercept to be ‘covered journalists’ by the act.
Senator Chuck Schumer, who drafted the bill, conceded that The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, whose coverage of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s releases won a Pulitzer for the Guardian, would probably not be covered.
Speaking at the New York Times’ Sources and Secrets Conference in March, Shumer said: “It’s probably not enough protections to (cover) him, but it’s better than current law.”
The current version of the shield law was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in September and was designed to provide confidentiality privileges for journalists and their sources.
The new FFIA, as it stands now, does not include protections for those “whose principal function, as demonstrated by the totality of such person or entity’s work, is to publish primary source documents that have been disclosed to such person or entity without authorization.”
The FFIA defines a “covered journalist” as “an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information.” The individual would have to have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years.
It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a “covered journalist” who would be granted the privileges of the law.
Former NSA chief General Keith Alexander has stated previouslt that he is pushing for “media leaks legislation,” clearly targeted towards whistleblowers and their enablers. The US government has also been known to use the Espionage Act 1917 and the Patriot Act to put additional pressure on journalists covering whistleblowing stories.
Critics of the shield law have pointed out that the First Amendment should already act as a shield law of sorts and that any attempt to define “legitimate” journalism is likely to be largely unconstitutional.