Julian Assange may have won the first round of his extradition battle against the United States, but lawyers and the National Union of Journalists have warned that his victory had little to do with protecting journalism and freedom of expression.
A study of the failure from District Judge Vanessa Barrister, who said the WikiLeaks founder should not be extradited on mental health grounds, appears to extend the scope of the British Official Secrets Act, which governs the leakage and handling of government classified information.
As part of the extradition case, Barrister had to make sure that Assange would have committed a crime if the acts reported by the United States had taken place in the United Kingdom.
Critically, Barrister decided that Assange did it in part by “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US military, who leaked 250,000 US diplomatic cables to him. She cited excerpts from a chat log between the two to justify the discussion.
On March 10, 2010, Manning said there was no more information to share about the Guantanamo detainee assessment reports that he had turned over to Assange, suggesting there would be no more leaks to come. Assange’s response is probably best interpreted as one of general encouragement, writing “prying eyes never go dry in my experience.”
Subsequently, Manning decided to leak many more documents, including US diplomatic cables a month later. At one point, Assange provided a link to a secure mailbox for transmitting information, of the type used by many media organizations like The Guardian, “in a specific directory that WikiLeaks had designated for use.”
Gavin Millar QC, a Matrix Chambers media attorney, contends that Assange’s conduct is “exactly what a journalist would do.” He added: ” Once you have a confidential source, you want to establish what information they have, what access they have, if they want to disclose it, and how you can get it.”
At another point, Assange used a password cracking tool to try to gain access to the Pentagon system, after Manning provided an encrypted password. It would have allowed Manning to access a system that he already had access to under a different username. The attempt failed, although Barrister was highly critical of the move.
” This is the conduct that most obviously demonstrates Mr. Assange’s complicity in stealing information from Ms. Manning, and separates his activity from that of the ordinary investigative journalist,” the judge concluded.
Such crude interpretations are aided by the fact that there is no formal defense of public interest embedded in the various British official secrets laws, a point recognized last September by the Law Commission, which said one should be introduced when the government keep your promise of the Queen’s speech. Update legislation.
In another area, Barrister may be on stronger ground. She said Assange violated the Official Secrets Act by publishing unedited US diplomatic cables in 2011, revealing the names of sources and informants. It was an act criticized by a wide range of media organizations at the time.
The National Union of Journalists said that while several British journalists have been threatened with prosecution under the law since the 1970s, including The Guardian reporter Amelia Hill during the phone hacking scandal, so far those threats they have never been carried out.
What Assange’s ruling demonstrates, however, is that the absence of an effective public interest clause makes it possible for lawyers acting for a foreign power, in this case the United States, to argue that they interact with a confidential source in possession of classified information is a crime. Offense.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism