This puts be in mind of the quote from the German author Heinrich Heine: “Das war Vorspiel nur. Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” This translates, loosely to: “That was only a prelude. Where one burns books, one will eventually burn men as as well.”
I first saw this quote in the museum at the Dachau concentration camp and it has stuck with me ever since. While we are not talking about literally burning books, the point is: censorship is a dangerous thing, as our founding fathers well knew.
I certainly don’t advocate the wholesale looting and publishing of sensitive materials, whether governmental or private. That having been said, just because someone slaps a “secret” label on something does not make it sacrosanct. Freedom of the press was interpreted to be a logical extension of freedom of speech for a reason.
When WikiLeaks made its first big media appearance by publishing tens of thousands of top-secret diplomatic cables in 2010, we argued the group headed by controversial front man Julian Assange was a media entity, albeit an unusual one. The broader implications of this status extend far beyond the question of whether we support the organization or its motives: As a blog post at the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, threats aimed at WikiLeaks are by implication also threats to any other media outlet that dares to publish government information. And some members of Congress say they want to make this connection explicit by changing laws so that journalists can also be sanctioned.
In his post Trevor Timm notes that signs have been accumulating for some time now that members of the government are looking for ways to go after journalists who publish official secrets. During a recent hearing of…
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