Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010. Justice Department officials did not explain why they decided to charge Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act — a step also debated within the Obama administration but ultimately not taken. But the indictment raises raises profound First Amendment issues.
Alarmed free speech advocates said it threatens to criminalize legitimate journalistic practices and questions the legality of basic news gathering techniques used everyday by journalists. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement following the announcement of the Espionage Act charges against Assange condemning the move as a "direct assault on the First Amendment. It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets," the ACLU's Ben Wizner said in a statement.