‘Spy draft’ bill threatens press freedom

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Under a bill currently being rushed through the Senate, anyone could be required to help the government spy. (Public domain)

‘Spy draft’ bill threatens press freedom

The Senate is dangerously close to passing a bill that would allow intelligence agencies to essentially “institute a spy draft” and order everyone from dentists to plumbers to surveil their patients and customers’ communications.

The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, or RISAA, would also allow the government to order commercial landlords who rent space to media outlets, or contractors who service newsrooms, to help it spy on American journalists’ communications with foreign sources.

Our deputy director of advocacy, Caitlin Vogus, wrote for the Guardian about the dangers of this awful bill. Advocacy Director Seth Stern, along with John Cusack, a founding board member, appealed to Senator Dick Durbin in the Chicago Sun-Times (thankfully, Durbin appears to understand that this bill cannot become law). We also told Rolling Stone, Reason, and others about the unique threat the bill poses to press freedom.

We’re asking you to do your part to stop this bill. Call 202-899-8938 ASAP and tell your senators to VOTE NO on RISAA.

U.S. provides meaningless ‘assurances’ in Assange case

Last month, the U.K. High Court asked the U.S. for “assurances” before deciding whether to allow Julian Assange’s appeal of his extradition to proceed, including an assurance that Assange, as an Australian, could defend himself using the First Amendment in a U.S. court

The U.S. this week told the British court that Assange may “raise and seek to rely on” the First Amendment, but it’s up to a judge whether he actually can. That’s completely meaningless. Anyone can "raise" anything in court. The U.S. is reserving the right to argue that the First Amendment is irrelevant to Assange, who is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for obtaining and publishing government secrets – something investigative journalists do every day. The “assurance” should make journalists even more worried about how the Assange prosecution could impact press freedom in the U.S. and globally.

Time to act on American journalist held in Russia

Six months ago this week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist and American citizen Alsu Kurmasheva was detained in Russia. Like Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Kurmasheva is being held by Vladimir Putin’s government on baseless charges, because she is a journalist.

Despite calls from news media outlets and press freedom organizations, including Freedom of the Press Foundation(FPF), the Department of State has still not designated Kurmasheva as wrongfully detained, which would open up additional U.S. government resources dedicated to freeing her. Read more on our website about Kurmasheva’s unjust detention and why the case for granting the designation has only grown stronger in the last six months.

Accountability needed for Kansas raid

Last year’s tragic raid of the Marion County Record in Kansas has largely left the national headlines, but the story is not over. Investigations into the raid are ongoing and news continues to emerge about additional evidence of Marion officials’ malicious retaliation.

Stern, FPF’s advocacy director, wrote on our website about the evidence that has piled up in recent months and the need for accountability sooner rather than later. “Hopefully the delay is because authorities are figuring out just how thick of a book they can throw at those responsible for the raid,” he said.

What we’re reading

The Israeli censorship regime is growing. that needs to stop. Jodie Ginsberg, head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, explains how Israel's refusal to allow the international press into Gaza, killings of journalists, and other restrictions on press freedom are preventing the public from understanding the war.

Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act passed the House, now it should pass the Senate. Some good news during an otherwise bleak week when it comes to government surveillance: The Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act — a bill that would close a loophole that allows the government to spy on Americans, including journalists, by buying their data — passed the House. The Senate now needs to finish the job.

NC blogger issued no-contact, no-trespass orders after confronting county attorney. The order against North Carolina blogger Thom Roddy is reminiscent of last year’s restraining order against an Arizona journalist for knocking on a state senator’s door. Interacting with reporters might sometimes be uncomfortable for public officials, but it’s what they signed up for. They need to have a thicker skin and respect the Constitution.

After reports about Trump jurors, judge demands restraint from the press. ​​A judge has no business telling the press to “refrain from writing about anything you observe with your eyes.” If this was meant as an order, it's a blatantly unconstitutional prior restraint. Even if it was just a request, it's way out of line.

FPF Live

On May 2 at noon ET, in honor of World Press Freedom Day, our Deputy Editor Adam Glenn will be moderating a panel discussing the intersections of press freedom and the environment, with our Deputy Director of Advocacy Caitlin Vogus, freelance journalist Carlos Berríos Polanco and Halle Parker, journalist and Society of Environmental Journalists board member. You can register here.

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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.