surveillance programs threaten freedom of press, report says
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[July 29, 2014]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.
surveillance programs are making it more difficult for government
officials to speak to the press anonymously, two rights groups said on
Large-scale surveillance, on top of the Obama administration's
crackdown on national security leaks, threatens the freedom of the
press and the right to legal counsel, Human Rights Watch and the
American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint report.
The National Security Agency's surveillance programs, which include
the collection of telephone "metadata," have heightened government
officials' concerns about dealing with the media, as "any
interaction - any email, any phone call - risks leaving a digital
trace that could subsequently be used against them," the report
The groups interviewed more than 90 journalists, lawyers, and
current or former senior U.S. government officials for the report.
"Journalists told us that officials are substantially less willing
to be in contact with the press, even with regard to unclassified
matters or personal opinions, than they were even a few years ago,"
the report said.
The Obama administration has been more aggressive than recent
predecessors about silencing leakers, and has charged eight people
under the Espionage Act on suspicion of leaking information. In the
wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the
administration has stepped up efforts to detect "insider threats"
from government employees who might want to leak information.
Many current U.S. surveillance programs go well beyond what is
necessary to ensure national security, the report said.
"The U.S. holds itself out as a model of freedom and democracy, but
its own surveillance programs are threatening the values it claims
to represent," report author Alex Sinha said in a statement.
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The report called on President Barack Obama and Congress to reform
U.S. surveillance policies, as well as reduce secrecy and provide
greater protection for whistleblowers.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in May to end the
NSA's bulk collection of telephone data. It is now under
consideration in the Senate.
Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi said in an email that
the DOJ "supports the First Amendment rights of all Americans and we
are continuously balancing the need to protect national security
with respect for the freedom of the press."
Raimondi criticized the report's methodology.
"This report relies more on opinions and less on facts or statistics
to bolster its claims," he said.
(Reporting by Rebecca Elliott; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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