Top Journalists and Lawyers: NSA Surveillance Threatens Press Freedom and Right to Counsel

image_pdfimage_print

| Firstlook

Photo Credit: Human Rights Watch

Photo Credit: Human Rights Watch

To do their jobs properly, journalists and lawyers sometimes need to be able to keep information private from the government.

And because what journalists and lawyers do is so integral to safeguarding democracy and basic rights, the United States has traditionally recognized their need for privileged communications.

But the virtually inescapable government surveillance exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has impaired if not eliminated the ability of news-gatherers and attorneys to communicate confidentially with their sources and their clients, according to a new report by two rights advocacy groups.

The report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union is based on an exhaustive new survey of journalists and lawyers working in the areas of national security and intelligence. Both groups of professionals describe a substantial erosion in their ability to do their constitutionally-protected jobs.

Not even the strongest versions of NSA reform being considered in Congress come anywhere close to addressing the chilling effects on basic freedoms that the new survey describes.

“If the US fails to address these concerns promptly and effectively,” report author  G. Alex Sinha writes, “it could do serious, long-term damage to the fabric of democracy in the country.”

Even before the Snowden revelations, reporters trying to cover important defense, intelligence and counter-terrorism issues were reeling from the effects of unprecedented secrecy and attacks on whistleblowers.

But newfound awareness of the numerous ways the government can follow electronic trails –  previously considered the stuff of paranoid fantasy — has led sources to grow considerably more fearful.

“It used to be that leak investigations didn’t get far because it was too hard to uncover the source, but with digital tools it’s just much easier, and sources know that,” said Washington Postcontributor Barton Gellman, one of the 46 journalists interviewed for the survey.


Sources are “afraid of the entire weight of the federal government coming down on them,” New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer is quoted as saying. “The added layer of fear makes it so much harder. I can’t count the number of people afraid of the legal implications [of speaking to me].”

Jonathan Landay, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter covering national security and intelligence, told Human Rights Watch that some sources have grown reluctant to talk to him about anything, “even something like, ‘Please explain the rationale for this foreign policy.’ That’s not even dealing with classified material; that’s just educating readers.”

Methods reporters use to avoid surveillance are time-consuming, difficult, off-putting  to sources — and ultimately futile, the surveyed journalists reported. “If the government wants to get you, they will,” Washington Post reporter Adam Goldman said.

But when journalists can’t do their jobs, the effect is felt well beyond the profession alone. Insufficiently informed journalism can “undermine effective democratic participation and governance,” the report states.

“What makes government better is our work exposing information,” Washington Post reporter Dana Priest is quoted as saying.  ”It’s not just that it’s harder for me to do my job, though it is. It also makes the country less safe. Institutions work less well, and it increases the risk of corruption. Secrecy works against all of us.”

The report’s author also interviewed five current or former U.S. officials with knowledge of the surveillance programs. “They generally defended the programs as legal and important for national security. They also showed varying degrees of concern for or interest in the impact that the programs might have on the work of journalists and attorneys,” Sinha wrote. “Most were skeptical that the programs have affected journalists and did not appear to have considered seriously the possible effect on attorneys.”

In fact, Bob Deitz, who served as the National Security Agency’s general counsel from 1998 to 2006, was apparently pleased to hear surveillance was making certain kinds of reporting more difficult. “Leaking is against the law. Good. I want criminals to be deterred,” he told the report’s author. “Does a cop chill a burglar’s inclination to burgle? Yes.”

But New York Times reporter Scott Shane disputed that analogy in his interview: “Burglary is not part of a larger set of activities protected by the Constitution, and at the heart of our democracy,” he said. “Unfortunately, that mindset is sort of the problem.”

Lawyers, meanwhile, expressed concerns that U.S. surveillance comprised a violation of the attorney-client confidentiality and could stifle their clients. The Sixth-Amendment-protected right to counsel in criminal prosecutions is traditionally considered to include the ability to communicate freely.

Many of the 42 attorneys interviewed for the survey reported finding it harder to build trust with clients — particularly those who are abroad, and aware of the extent of NSA surveillance.

One lawyer described feeling duty-bound to warn her clients. “Given the now publicly admitted revelations that there is no privacy in communications, including those between attorneys and their clients, I feel ethically obligated to tell all clients that I can’t guarantee anything [they] say is privileged … or will remain confidential,” said Linda Moreno, a defense attorney specializing in national security and terrorism cases.

[read full post here]

Tags: , , , , ,

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

New Title

NOTE: Email is optional. Do NOT enter it if you do NOT want it displayed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the articles on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use'...you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.
Top
Send this to a friend