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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Best One-Sentence Summary of Why the Espionage Act is a Mess

Apropos the continuing obsession with L'Affair Assange (and the various degrees of hysteria relating to the viewing of Wiki-leaked documents by ordinary people), I thought I'd post this quote, which comes from congressional testimony given in 1979 by Anthony A. Lapham, then the General Counsel of CIA. There's a lot more to say about how the Espionage Act might apply to WikiLeaks, but to get a sense of the problem raised by the Espionage Act's myriad ambiguities, here is the nutshell version:

On the one hand the laws stand idle and are not enforced at least in part because their meaning is so obscure, and on the other hand it is likely that the very obscurity of these laws serves to deter perfectly legitimate expression and debate by persons who must be as unsure of their liabilities as I am unsure of their obligations.

I dare say, little has changed in the last 31 years.

Posted by Steve Vladeck on December 8, 2010 at 03:48 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Steve Vladeck | Permalink


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