During a House Judiciary Committee panel hearing on Wednesday, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the committee was considering revamping the World War I era Espionage Act to allow prosecution of journalists for divulging state secrets, according to a report by the Christian Science Monitor.
Sensenbrenner acknowledged the First Amendment hurdle that such a law would have to clear, a hurdle that the Supreme Court has set quite high. “We’ve got the constitutional issue about the First Amendment protecting the freedom of the press, but there has to be a balance”, he was quoted as saying.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accused the Obama administration of playing politics with national security.
“What sets these leaks apart from other leaks we have seen is that the media reports that many of these have come from highly placed administration officials. If true, this means that administration officials are weakening our national security and endangering American lives”, he said in a statement.
Smith called on the Justice Department to “bring the full force of the law” against those who leaked national security secrets. “We can judge whether the administration is willing to conduct a serious and objective investigation by considering two factors: (1) whether they will hold administration officials responsible and (2) whether the investigation is completed before the general election”, he said.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Monitor that there is “no need for a new law, and certainly not a new law that was rushed through Congress without careful consideration of the First Amendment interests of the media and other members of the public who share national security information.”