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RELEASE: Rep. Khanna, Sen. Wyden Introduce Legislation to Protect Whistleblowers, Ensure Journalists Aren’t Targeted for Publishing Classified Information

March 5, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) introduced legislation to amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to better protect journalists and whistleblowers under attack in the modern era. Rep. Khanna’s legislation reaffirms First Amendment protections for journalists who publish classified information, in addition to ensuring whistleblowers can safely come forward to report waste, fraud and abuse to Congress. Senator Ron Wyden (OR) will introduce the companion bill in the Senate.

“The Espionage Act was written over 100 years ago to protect our country against spies, not journalists,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17). “The Trump Administration has manipulated it to crack down on reporters. My bill with Senator Wyden will protect journalists from being prosecuted under the Espionage Act and make it easier for members of Congress, as well as federal agencies, to conduct proper oversight over any privacy abuses. Our nation’s strength rests on the freedom of the press, transparency, and a functioning system of checks and balances. This bill is a step toward ensuring those same principles apply to intelligence gathering and surveillance operations.”

“As the son of an investigative reporter I believe it is un-American to prosecute journalists for what they write – especially when it comes to how the government may be weaponizing the intelligence agencies for political gain,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (OR). “The Espionage Act currently provides sweeping powers for a rogue attorney general like Bill Barr or unscrupulous president like Donald Trump to target journalists and whistleblowers who reveal information they’d rather keep secret. This bill ensures only personnel with security clearances can be prosecuted for improperly revealing classified information.”

The Espionage Act Reform Act Ensures:

  • Journalists who solicit, obtain, or publish government secrets are safe from prosecution.
  • Every member of Congress is equally able to receive classified information, specifically from whistleblowers. Current law criminalizes the disclosure of classified information related to signals intelligence to any member of Congress, unless it is in response to a “lawful demand” from a committee. This change puts members in the minority party and those not chairing any committee at a significant disadvantage toward conducting effective oversight.
  • Federal courts, inspector generals, the FCC, Federal Trade Commission, and Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board can conduct oversight into privacy abuses.
  • Cybersecurity experts who discover classified government backdoors in encryption algorithms and communications apps used by the public can publish their research without the risk of criminal penalties. The bill correctly places the burden on governments to hide their surveillance backdoors; academic researchers and other experts should not face legal risks for discovering them.

You can read the full bill text here.


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About the Office

Congressman Khanna represents the 17th District of California, which covers communities in Silicon Valley. Visit his website at Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @RepRoKhanna.