Update (Jan. 9, 2020): On Dec. 17, the U.S. Senate passed the conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act in a 86-8 vote. On Dec. 20, President Trump signed the bill into law.)
Update (Dec. 12, 2019): On Dec. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the compromise National Defense Authorization Act bill in a 377-48 vote. The bill, which includes the expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, now moves to the Senate for a vote scheduled next week.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on Dec. 11 on a defense spending bill, which includes an expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act opposed by the Reporters Committee. The provision could indefinitely criminalize the disclosure of the identity of “covert agents,” regardless of whether the disclosure would present a risk of harm.
Following months of negotiations, members of the House and Senate conference committee on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 released a conference report that included this expansion to the IIPA on Dec. 9.
The expansion would eliminate a requirement that, for the law to apply, an intelligence officer or informant had to have recently served or been active overseas. The expansion of the IIPA would criminalize such disclosures even after retirement or death — so long as the Intelligence Community or military maintains the classification.
When it passed in 1982, the IIPA was intended to protect only the identities of covert agents whose overseas service put them in “special danger” if their identities were disclosed. The 1982 bill was the result of six years of debate — precisely because this is one of the few federal laws that criminalizes the disclosure of truthful information about government activities.
The Reporters Committee signed onto a July 9 letter, coordinated by Open The Government and joined by 29 open government and press freedom organizations, calling on Congress to remove the provision criminalizing reasonable disclosures.
A month later, the Reporters Committee and 37 media organizations sent another letter to members of Congress asking them to reject the proposed IIPA expansion, arguing that the new language threatened to “chill reporting in the public interest.” The letter stated that press rights could be better protected “without compromising national security.”
For more information on the IIPA, please see our special analysis, which highlights op-eds, news articles, and blog posts from the Reporters Committee and our coalition partners.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.
Photo by William Warby