The United States government’s large-scale surveillance is seriously hampering US-based journalists and lawyers in their work, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a joint report released this week.
Surveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people’s ability to hold their government to account, the groups said in a statement posted on the HRW website.
The 120-page report, With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior US government officials.
It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions.
The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.
“The work of journalists and lawyers is central to our democracy,” said report author Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier Fellow at HRW and ACLU, said.
“When their work suffers, so do we.”
The US has long held itself out as a global leader on media freedom. However, journalists interviewed for the report are finding that surveillance is harming their ability to report on matters of great public concern.
The interviewee also said that surveillance intimidates sources, making them more hesitant to discuss even unclassified issues of public concern.
The sources fear they could lose their security clearances, be fired, or – in the worst case – come under criminal investigation. Surveillance has magnified existing concerns among journalists and their sources over the administration’s crackdown on leaks.
The crackdown includes new restrictions on contact between intelligence officials and the media, an increase in leak prosecutions, and the Insider Threat Program, which requires federal officials to report one another for ‘suspicious’ behavior that might betray an intention to leak information.