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article imageSnowden affair opens up debates on journalist vs blogger rights

By Carol Forsloff     Jul 17, 2013 in Politics
The Edward Snowden affair opens up new debates on the rights of a free press. Does the First Amendment declare the media can say or write anything they want to? Can just anyone pass along government secrets claiming press protection?
Edward Snowden is accused of passing along secret and classified information to media outlets, and potentially American enemies, and admitting he did so, and planned to do so, when he took a job as a contractor with the National Security Agency. He admitted to taking a job with Booze Allen specifically to gather evidence on NSA surveillance.
The First Amendment Center underlines the elements of the First Amendment when addressing the question. The Center points out that the media can publish any information or opinion they want to but are responsible for the consequences, if it is false information or information that can present harm to another, whether that is the invasion of a person’s privacy or libel. Consequences can be severe when information is reckless or false, because it can bring a publication into courts for not acting in an ethical way.
The question of who is the media, i.e. which individuals or groups are protected under the First Amendment when disseminating information has been debatable for some time. There are yardsticks to help make that determination, as most states, as well as the federal government, have protections for the press, with some of the states offering additional protection.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined First Amendment protections extend to “‘every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’” von Bulow v. von Bulow, 811 F.2d 136, 144 (2d Cir.) (quoting Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452 (1938)), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1015 (1987).
Some individuals, like Lindsey Graham, a conservative , question whether bloggers should be given the same protection given the press. They are covered by the free speech portion of the First Amendment, legal experts agree, but with respect to the question of the definition of a journalist, the Edward Snowden affair has raised important questions. The question is, as observed by one publication, “do those protections apply to the behavior of finding and passing on (sometimes secret) information, or if they apply only to people with little plastic ID badges to prove their affiliation.”
Some folks, contrary to Graham’s thesis, believe that extending freedom of the press can actually increase the safeguards given to journalists as a group. In 2006 a California appeals court found that the same protection given print media should be granted to broadcast and Internet journalists. The usual finding is that “ The journalist’s privilege is justified by the journalist’s role of providing information that the public would otherwise be unable to acquire. It has been determined that a strong democracy for decision making and accountability depends upon a broad base of public information.
The debate of press freedom vs national security has been one issue explored in the wake of the Edward Snowden affair. But what about the protection given journalists regarding protection of sources when they write their articles and do their research or the right of a blogger to find and pass on secret or classified information? That is the principal question with reference to the Snowden Affair, and as LegalZoom pointed out in the case of Internet sites being given the same protection as print media, it is likely the courts will have to decide.
More about edward snowden, First amendment, Freedom of the press, First Amendment Center, Booze Allen
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