Does Our First Amendment Still Matter?

Hopefully you follow the regular news sometimes. I read a lot of business news but every once in a while I take a peek at the regular news. The last handful of weeks Wikileaks has been talked about, and at first I was a little outraged that Wikileaks has been publishing our government’s secret documents. I am not a fan of private correspondence between politicians and diplomats being plastered out on the internet for the world to see. Much of it is extremely embarrassing but also probably necessary for our government leaders to access what’s going on in the world.

The information should have never leaked. We had a government employee, perhaps in the army, download a bunch of classified and secret information. The person who leaked the information is in trouble and being prosecuted, as he or she should be. As a requirement for his or her position and access to secret information, he or she is not allowed to disclose that information. So we have leaked information that should have never leaked. Who’s fault is that and what can be done about it? I believe our government should take steps that it never happen again.

Now back to the publishing of the information. Can and should Wikileaks be prosecuted for publishing the information? Our first amendment of the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press with exceptions, as written into law. One law that is still legitimately on the books is The Espionage Act of 1917. “It prohibited any attempt to interfere with military operations, to support America’s enemies during wartime, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment.” (Wikipedia) It might be possible to prove that Wikileaks did break the law under The Espionage Act, but this would have to be done in open court and certain things would have to be proved. Our government has declined prosecuting Wikileaks to date.

Instead, our government put pressure on all kinds of vendors who do business with Wikileaks. Companies like Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, and various other U.S. companies that help internet users find Wikileaks and contribute to Wikileaks. It appears that other governments might have gotten into the act with Switzerland closing a Wikileaks bank account. This is where I’m rubbed wrong. There may be nothing to prosecute Wikileaks on, but our government can still take away it’s funding and make it difficult for our citizens to see. That amounts to censorship and economic prosecution of free speech and freedom of the press, and our government could use the same tactics on any press organization they find objectionable. Even my blog here. As far as I know, it is legal to do what our government is doing, but it breaks the spirit of the first amendment.

So what can we do about all of this? I certainly am not advocating any illegal action in response to this attack on free speech. However, we can legally show how we feel about our free speech right by voting with our ballots in the next election, and with our wallets by avoiding companies that disregard the first amendment.

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