‘Imperative’ to pass PRESS Act

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Screenshot of journalist Catherine Herridge testifying before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Apr. 11, 2024, on the importance of the bipartisan PRESS Act for investigative journalists, their sources and American democracy. (YouTube)

Journalist Catherine Herridge calls for passage of PRESS Act

Veteran journalist Catherine Herridge threw her full support behind the PRESS Act, the federal bill to put an end to surveillance and subpoenas to force journalists to out their sources, during Congressional testimony yesterday.

“If there’s anything I can accomplish in my career as a journalist it’s going to be getting this over the finish line. I feel this with every core of my being,” she told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government. She added, “If you cannot offer a source a promise of confidentiality as a journalist, your toolbox is empty.”

Herridge, who most recently worked for CBS News, was held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge sources for her reporting during her time at Fox News. She is facing a fine of $800 every day that she does not burn her sources, although the penalty is stayed while she appeals.

Read more about the hearing on our website.

Biden must do more than 'consider' dropping Assange case

President Joe Biden said this week that his administration is “considering” dropping the case against Julian Assange in response to a request from Australia, where Assange is from. Biden should’ve dropped the case immediately upon taking office. He should not wait another minute.

As we’ve said before, it’s an embarrassment that it takes pressure from Australia for the United States to “consider” dropping a case that existentially threatens the First Amendment.

This week also marked five years since Assange was imprisoned in the U.K., where he awaits extradition to the United States on charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret State and Defense Department documents that once made worldwide news.

Five years is the maximum sentence for the computer crimes for which Assange was originally charged before prosecutors added claims under the Espionage Act that would criminalize routine newsgathering conduct, like obtaining and publishing documents from sources. As we explained on our website, if the administration is really looking to punish alleged “hacking” as it claims, then it’s already done so. Every day Assange spends behind bars at this point is punishment for journalism, not hacking.

House alarmingly votes to extend and expand domestic surveillance

The House voted this morning to extend intelligence agencies’ surveillance power under Section 702 of the FISA Act for two years, reversing course after blocking an attempt to extend it for five years on Wednesday.

But that's not even the worst part. The House voted down a proposed amendment to stop warrantless surveillance of Americans and voted in favor of amendments that dramatically expand the government’s surveillance authority. Several representatives who have previously advocated for civil liberties alarmed their supporters by opposing the amendment to eliminate unconstitutional domestic surveillance.

Section 702 has been repeatedly abused to allow the government to unconstitutionally spy on Americans, including journalists, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It’s absolutely vital that the Senate reject the House bill and any Section 702 extension or reauthorization that does not end warrantless searches of Americans’ communications.

What we’re reading

’Unparalleled and Unprecedented.’ The unprecedented number of journalists killed in the Israel-Gaza war is horrific, and Israel’s refusal to allow the international press into Gaza shuts out the public from information about the war. It’s unacceptable.

End the Persecution of Julian Assange. “The fifth anniversary of Assange’s imprisonment would be a good day for the Biden administration to end this sordid saga—before it ends the First Amendment,” writes Chip Gibbons in The Nation.

LA Times reporters reach $1.2 million settlement with Minnesota State Patrol. Journalists Carolyn Cole and Molly Hennessy-Fiske alleged that officers assaulted them in 2020 while they were covering protests after George Floyd’s murder. The Department of Justice previously issued a lengthy report on the Minneapolis Police Department’s response to the protests, including its assaults and arrests of journalists.

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California police violate press rights

California police are violating state law “right and left” during the protests and police raids on campus encampments. That’s according to University of California, Irvine, School of Law professor Susan Seager. We interviewed her in the wake of arrests of two California journalists in recent weeks, among other press freedom violations. Suppression of the press isn’t supposed to happen anywhere in America, but especially not in California, where it’s explicitly against the law for police to intentionally interfere with journalists covering a demonstration.

Cops on campus arrest, bully journalists

As police stormed several college campuses in recent days and arrested hundreds of students protesting the Israel-Gaza war, the free press was also under attack. Texas Department of Public Safety officers arrested Carlos Sanchez, a photojournalist for the local Fox affiliate, as he was covering protests at the University of Texas at Austin. But police can’t seem to make up their minds about what, exactly, they want us to believe Sanchez did wrong, repeatedly bringing then dropping charges against the photographer.

Biden signs off on 'spy draft'

Last week, we warned of a dangerous new bill that would expand the surveillance law Section 702 of FISA. Unfortunately, the Senate approved the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, or RISAA, over the weekend, officially reauthorizing Section 702 without any significant reforms and with dangerous expansions of the intelligence agencies’ spy powers. President Biden quickly signed the bill into law, authorizing intelligence agencies to essentially “institute a spy draft” that could require ordinary Americans and businesses to help the government surveil online communications, including those of journalists.