Wikileaks, Twitter, and the US Government


If you’re connected to Wikileaks, the US government wants to see your Twitter information. They might also want to see your Facebook account, your Google search history, and who knows how much other information. And it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re the PFC in jail for leaking material or a member of the Icelandic Parliament–the US government wants that information, and ideally, they’d like you unaware of the fact that they want it.

It’s actually a little surprising that this sort of thing hasn’t come to a head before. The legal rights of journalists in these types of cases have never really been litigated or codified. There’s just been a sort of gentleman’s agreement not to prosecute press outlets for possessing and leaking classified materials. But if that agreement is broken, it could have a drastic effect on the ability of the press to report on the government in this country. Think about how many stories from just the past ten years might have gone unreported if there was a real threat that the publisher and the reporters involved could go to prison for possession of classified documents.

There’s no legal difference between Wikileaks and the NY Times when it comes to this sort of thing. If Julian Assange can be tried under the Espionage Act, so can Arthur Sulzburger Jr., so can Katherine Weymouth of the Washington Post, so can the heads of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. There’s no legal exemption for corporate media in the law, at least as it currently stands. And while I would personally argue that any law which threatens to jail members of the press for reporting on classified material is in violation of the First Amendment protections of a free press, I don’t know that I would trust the current courts to agree.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →