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that a shield law “would give greater protections to journalists asked to reveal confidential sources or hand over unpublished information to federal authorities.”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

The worldwide protest sentiment is not going away anytime soon.

Proposed legislation would eliminate erratic scheduling and extend protections to part-time employees.

A proposed community-owned solar project on an abandoned coal mine in Arizona illustrates how cooperative economics make it possible to stop extracting fossil fuels — without leaving workers behind.

This was the biggest scandal to ever hit the land recordation system in this country, and those who were responsible should be held accountable.

Over 300,000 Internet users contributed to our crowdsourced vision for free expression online in the 21st century. What matters most to the Internet community? Watch this animated video to find out.

A new pamphlet, released today, is an attempt to answer this question – and the case we make is, yes, it not only makes sense to think of planetary control in these terms, but it is essential.

Posted 5 days 1 hour ago

They meet behind closed doors, at five-star hotels, away from the prying eyes of the public.

Posted 4 days 2 hours ago

Mexico's population is now making itself heard – tired of a tiny elite that treats them like subjects rather than citizens, and tired of the criminal gangs that terrorize them and corrupt the political process.

Posted 6 days 3 hours ago

"It's a nuisance smell in the area. It's a smell that's traveled quite far," said Jeff Suggs, emergency management coordinator for La Porte, where the company's accident occurred.

Posted 6 days 3 hours ago

This was the biggest scandal to ever hit the land recordation system in this country, and those who were responsible should be held accountable.

Posted 2 days 2 hours ago

The report to be released Monday shows key British politicians enabling a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past four years.

The Nordic nation of 5.6 million has been at the forefront of wind power innovation since the 1890s, when one of its leading scientists, Poul la Cour, began testing turbines.

It's been over a month since 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers, Jr. was killed by a St. Louis police officer.

Organizers from OUR Walmart are expecting to see protests in 1,600 stores nationwide, as employees at more than 2,100 Walmarts have signed a petition asking for higher wages and better working conditions.

According to new research, the richest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans now hold over 11 percent of the nation’s total wealth – a higher share than the top .01 percent held in 1929 before the Great Crash.

Sign Up