Reporters Committee concerned about Senate vote on anti-leaks legislation

Press Release | December 18, 2012

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press expressed grave concern over the news that the U.S. Senate could vote before Christmas on an intelligence authorization bill that contains unprecedented anti-leaks proposals that could significantly staunch the flow of national security and foreign affairs information to the public.

The Reporters Committee has been working closely with other news organizations as a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative to convey serious concerns specifically about Sections 505 and 506 of the bill.

As approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, these measures would ban background briefings by anyone in the intelligence community below the level of deputy director, or an authorized public affairs official, and would prohibit for one year any former government employee or outside advisor in the intelligence community who’s held a security clearance in the last three years from providing analysis or commentary about government activity to news organizations. Senate leaders may be considering changes to these provisions, but nothing has been released.

“These provisions are simply untenable,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “The context and understanding of national security and foreign relations issues provided by those experts is crucial to helping the media portray the news accurately. Passage of these sections would, in essence, close the spigot on non-classified information the public needs to understand events of the day.”

Brown added, “As federal appellate Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in an important leaks case years ago, ‘Public debate…is diminished without access to unfiltered facts…. We have placed our faith in knowledge, not in ignorance, and for most, this means reliance on the press.’”

If passed by the Senate, the proposals would then have to be considered and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We join our Sunshine in Government Initiative partners in urging the Senate to rescind these restrictions as the intelligence authorization bill moves forward,” Brown added. “There are ways to protect legitimate, classified government secrets. Restricting the flow of non-classified information is not one of them.”

Background on the proposals can be found on the Sunshine in Government site: http://sunshineingov.wordpress.com/category/unauthorized-disclosures/ .

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.