July 27, 2022

Wyden, Khanna, Massie Introduce Bill to Protect Whistleblowers, Ensure Journalists Aren’t Targeted for Publishing Classified Information

Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill reforms Espionage Act to protect First Amendment rights against abusive prosecutions and expand avenues for whistleblowers to report government wrongdoing

Washington, D.C.    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., re-introduced the Espionage Act Reform Act today to rewrite the hundred-year-old law governing when reporters and whistleblowers can be prosecuted for discussing government secrets.

The Wyden-Khanna-Massie legislation reaffirms First Amendment protections for journalists who publish classified information, and ensures whistleblowers can effectively report waste, fraud and abuse to Congress. The bill mirrors the original legislation introduced in 2020, but with bipartisan support.

“Journalists should never be prosecuted by the government for what they publish. Especially when politicians abuse the law to keep the public in the dark about misconduct or abuse,” Wyden said. “The Espionage Act currently provides the executive branch with sweeping powers that are ripe for abuse to target journalists and whistleblowers who reveal information some officials would rather keep secret. This bill ensures only personnel with security clearances can be prosecuted for improperly revealing classified information and that whistleblowers can reveal classified abuses directly to Congress, federal regulators, and oversight bodies.”

“When one journalist is prosecuted for doing his or her job, that’s a threat to all journalists,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “My bill with Senator Wyden would shield journalists from being charged under the Espionage Act, which was written to protect our country against spies. Our nation’s strength rests on the freedom of the press and reporters must be allowed to work without fear of persecution.”

“At a time when government officials claim the right to perform warrantless surveillance upon all American citizens, there is an urgent need to zealously guard freedom of the press and to demand government transparency and accountability,” said Rep. Thomas Massie. “The ongoing attempts to prosecute journalists like Julian Assange under the Espionage Act threaten our First Amendment rights, and should be opposed by all who wish to safeguard our constitutional rights now and in the years to come.  I join my colleagues, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Ro Khanna, to introduce bipartisan legislation to reform the Espionage Act so that whistleblowers and journalists seeking to expose the government’s wrongdoing are protected.”

The Espionage Act Reform Act:

  • Protects journalists who solicit, obtain or publish government secrets from prosecution.
  • Ensures that each member of Congress is equally able to receive classified information, including from whistleblowers. Currently, the law criminalizes the disclosure to Congress of classified information related to intercepted communications, unless it is in response to a “lawful demand” from a committee. This puts members in the minority party and those not chairing any committee at a significant disadvantage.
  • Ensures that federal courts, inspectors general, the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board can conduct oversight into privacy abuses.
  • Ensures that 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. It is up to governments to hide their surveillance backdoors; academic researchers and other experts should not face legal risks for discovering them.

The full bill text is here.

Read a summary of the bill here.


Press Contact

Keith Chu (Wyden) 202-224-5244 / Marie Baldassarre (Khanna) 202-251-0762 / John Kennedy (Massie) 202-225-3465