If Senator Pat Roberts gets his way, the First Amendment and the public's right to know will take a monstrous hit. Roberts is considering adding language to the 2007 intelligence authorization bill that criminalizes the distribution of classified information by everyone, not just by government employees and contractors. Similar legislation, known as the Official Secrets Act, was defeated when President Clinton vetoed it near the end of his presidency.
Criminalizing disclosure of classified information by any member of the public would have a chilling effect on the press and the public would be less informed as a result. Classification is often wrongly used to cover up government illegalities or other questionable behavior. In a democracy, should exposing government misconduct be illegal?
Again, currently, only people with security clearances are held responsible for securing classified info. Under Senator Roberts’ proposal, reporters – even people reading the newspaper – would be in trouble.