The House Judiciary Committee panel held hearings this week stating that they are considering use of the World War I Espionage Act to allow journalists to be prosecuted for leaking state secrets. The move would be in response to media reports about the involvement of the US government in the development of the Stuxnet worm, a highly complex computer virus designed to attack the nuclear facilities in Iran.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has acknowledged that the First Amendment, allowing freedom of the press, would be a challenge. He said that the Supreme Court set a high bar for drawing limits on the kind of information that can be revealed by journalists.
“We’ve got the constitutional issue about the First Amendment protecting the freedom of the press, but there has to be a balance”, he said.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) accused the Obama Administration of jeopardizing national security by making this into a political issue.
“What sets these leaks apart from other leaks we have seen is that the media reports that many of these have come from highly placed administration officials. If true, this means that administration officials are weakening our national security and endangering American lives”, he said in a statement.
Smith says that the full force of the law should be used to punish any journalist who releases state secrets.
“We can judge whether the administration is willing to conduct a serious and objective investigation by considering two factors: (1) whether they will hold administration officials responsible and (2) whether the investigation is completed before the general election”, he said.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, spoke to the Christian Science Monitor on the issue, stating that there is “no need for a new law, and certainly not a new law that was rushed through Congress without careful consideration of the First Amendment interests of the media and other members of the public who share national security information.”