Don’t Plug the Citizen Leak: Let Democracy Flow

Search form

Don’t Plug the Citizen Leak: Let Democracy Flow

Don’t Plug the Citizen Leak: Let Democracy Flow
Wed, 6/26/2013 - by J. Andrés Araiza

New details are emerging on a daily basis about President Obama’s vast domestic spying network. Agents spy on journalists. Government computers track our phone calls. Drones watch us from the sky.

In response to these revelations, our corporately owned “watchdogs of democracy” are barking in protest. Mainstream journalists demand special protections against government intrusion. Big Media is colluding with U.S. Senators to craft legislation that protects less than 1% of the populace and further ensures Obama’s ability to “plug” citizen leaks.

Within the editorial pages of mainstream newspapers, columnists are voicing their opposition. The same day The Guardian in London revealed that the NSA was scooping up the phone records of millions of Americans, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune ran an editorial calling the spying “an outrageous assault on our civil liberties.” After the Associated Press announced that the Department of Justice seized reporters’ phone records, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel wrote, “Government can't be trusted to always tell the truth or to always do what's right.”

Also within these columns, writers are proposing a well-worn solution: passage of a federal media shield law that protects “professional” journalists. The St. Cloud Times in Central Minnesota wrote that a shield law “would give greater protections to journalists asked to reveal confidential sources or hand over unpublished information to federal authorities.” California’s Modesto Bee described a law that “would require law enforcement to try every other avenue to obtain (confidential information from reporters) before seeking judicial approval to seize records from journalists. Reporters could appeal to federal judges, who would have to balance the government's need for information against the public interest in newsgathering.”

What these columns are advocating for is The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the legislation in May after learning that the Department of Justice covertly obtained AP reporters’ emails and phone records. The law is modeled after Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) 2009 proposal, and would shield journalists from revealing their confidential sources in most circumstances. But both the Feinstein-Durbin law and Schumer’s current bill suffer the same two flaws because they fail to address: Who is a journalist? And what is legitimate news?

Granted, coming up with a universal definition of “journalist” is no easy task. Scholars, practitioners and politicians haven't yet agreed on a contemporary definition of the word. Before the widespread use of the Internet, a journalist was typically recognized as an individual who compiled information to be presented as news through a medium (newspaper, television or radio). But in the era of citizen journalism, everyone fits the definition. With an Internet connection and small digital device, anyone can compile information and publish it through a medium.

One question that comes to mind: Would Schumer’s law protect someone like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? Assange published leaked information from Army Private Bradley Manning that revealed American war crimes abroad. Manning is currently being tried and faces life in prison for leaking the information to Assange.

But a press release from Schumer’s office states explicitly: “WikiLeaks doesn’t quality for protection … [because] the site does not fit the bill’s definition of a journalist, which requires that the covered party regularly engage in legitimate newsgathering activities.” According to the press release, senators are also working with media conglomerates to craft “new language that will explicitly exclude organizations like WikiLeaks, whose sole or primary purpose is to publish unauthorized disclosures of documents…”

This law should invoke fear. It only protects Big Media. Citizen journalists are still exposed to government persecution and prosecution. The bill, in the end, empowers the government to define who is a journalist and to silence “illegitimate newsgathering.”

America should not waste time debating laws that benefit the 1%. Big Media have not been the “watchdogs” they sell themselves as.They were silent as George W. Bush dragged us into two wars with fictitious intelligence. They largely ignored and continue to ignore climate change. Mainstream reporters were complacent as Obama hunted down Assange for publishing proof that the U.S. violated international law.

The debate around shield laws quickly falls into a rabbit hole over “who” is covered. So instead of focusing on the individual, let’s focus on the action. I propose a national Protecting Democracy Through Information Act. The idea is simple: whoever exposes government lies and crimes is protected from prosecution.

I can already hear the naysayers. Sure, the idea may not be perfect. But some of this country’s landmark legislation started with simple, grand ideals (women must have the right to vote, discrimination is intolerable, all citizens should access the polls). Let’s do the same in the current spying debate and agree: Obama’s spying was only revealed through leaks from everyday citizens who possessed earth-shattering proof. Without those leaks, we would remain blind to the covert tactics that are imperiling the U.S. Constitution and our privacy.

It isn't the 1% that requires more protection. It's journalists and the rest of us: the 99%. This country needs laws encouraging the free flow of information to foster a healthy democracy.

Article Tabs

non-violent drug offenses, Million Dollar Blocks

"I tell you what, I wish instead of spending so much money on [incarcerating people], they'd come fill some of these crater holes behind my house."

kayaktivists, Shell protests, Fennica, Arctic oil drilling

Dozens of kayaktivists took to the water to block Shell's Fennica ice breaker from leaving port, while a group of 13 climbers rappelled off a bridge in Portland, Oregon, with enough supplies to last days if needed.

Samuel DuBose, Ray Tensing, police killings, police brutality, police violence, indicted officers

Prosecutors said officer Ray Tensing “purposely killed” 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man who was pulled over for a missing front license plate.

Frackanpada, anti-fracking movement, fracking bans, anti-fracking camp, fracking resistance, Fracking Ez, Basque anti-fracking movement

“This is the first time fracking activists have got together on this scale internationally – from Kurdistan to Brazil, from Ukraine to Portugal and Algeria," says Catriona of Ireland, who attended the recent Frackanpada.

Being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans – as medical fraud, huge price markups and pharmaceutical copyright laws are contributing to growing illnesses and early death.

The call for a ban follows controversial legislation allowing E.U. member states to opt-out of GM cultivation, even though it has been approved at the European Union level.

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago
bank bailouts, fraudulent bank practices, mortgage backed securities, illegal foreclosures, Lanny Breuer, Eric Holder, FDIC, securitized loans, due process, whistleblowers, robosigning, mortgage fraud, revolving door

"The system is largely gamed, broken and corrupted by money, influence peddling and a revolving door."

Posted 3 days 23 hours ago
Black Lives Matter, pepper spray cops, Cleveland police incidents, police brutality, police violence, Ferguson protests, Baltimore protests

The incident occurred Sunday during protests against the arrest of a 14-year-old.

Posted 2 days 23 hours ago
Fight for $15, $15 minimum wage, increased wages, fastfood workers, Wage Board, Andrew Cuomo, Save NY Restaurants Coalition

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Wage Board exercised its power to set the new minimum for the fast food industry's 200,000 workers in the state – without requiring approval of the legislature.

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago
Black Lives Matter, racial injustice, economic injustice, Tia Oso, Patrisse Cullors, white supremacy, Ku Klux Klan, #BernieSoBlack

The recent Black Lives Matter protest at the Netroots Nation conference was a teachable moment for everyone – forcing progressives to pick a side as they shape next year's electoral agenda.

Posted 3 days 23 hours ago
Black Lives Matter, racial injustice, economic injustice, Tia Oso, Patrisse Cullors, white supremacy, Ku Klux Klan, #BernieSoBlack

The recent Black Lives Matter protest at the Netroots Nation conference was a teachable moment for everyone – forcing progressives to pick a side as they shape next year's electoral agenda.

Black Lives Matter, pepper spray cops, Cleveland police incidents, police brutality, police violence, Ferguson protests, Baltimore protests

The incident occurred Sunday during protests against the arrest of a 14-year-old.

Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, GMO labeling, GMOs, Monsanto, Denying Americans the Right to Know Act, DARK Act, Big Food, Grocery Manufacturers Association, right to know, Just Label It, Center for Food Safety

While government officials and the food industry claim GMOs are safe, consumer advocates seeking transparency on labels argue that no one really knows the long-term impacts of genetically modified crops.

Endangered Species Act, animal protections, Federal Land Freedom Act, Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act, National Defense Authorization Act, Common Sense in Species Protection Act, Clean Energy Act

A spate of bills attached with riders are moving through Congress that would dismantle the historic law by transferring authority from the federal level to the states – inaugurating an era of unrestrained development.

Chilean student movement, Bill Moyer, Michelle Bachelet, Movement Action Plan, free education

As President Michelle Bachelet sets to implement comprehensive education reform, the movement is in a crucial phase – now students and teachers are ratcheting up pressure with huge protests and an indefinite strike.

Sign Up