This Day In History — US 1918 Sedition Act Repealed (March 3 1921)

“In addition to conventional spying, however, the Espionage Act has also been used to prosecute those who delivered confidential governmental information not to foreign governments, but to the press. Whistleblowers charged with violating the Espionage Act include Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, WikiLeaks contributor Chelsea Manning, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Now there are threats that it may be used against the groups that publish that information.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation (June 14 2017)

On June 15 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act into law. The Espionage Act was further modified by the Sedition Act of 1918 but those amendments were ultimately overturned on March 3 1921. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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The Sedition Act — actually  a set of amendments to the Espionage Act — sought to criminalize statements during the war that were “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive… about the form of government of the United States.”

Although the ‘Sedition Act’ of 1918, was repealed on March 3 1921, the original Espionage Act was left intact.

The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years.

“It was intended to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment, to prevent insubordination in the military, and to prevent the support of United States enemies during wartime.

In 1919, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled through Schenck v. United States that the act did not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted under its provisions.

The constitutionality of the law, its relationship to free speech, and the meaning of its language have been contested in court ever since.

Among those charged with offences under the Act are German-American socialist congressman and newspaper editor Victor L. Berger, labor leader and four time Socialist Party of America candidate, Eugene V. Debs, anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, former Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society president Joseph Franklin Rutherford, communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Cablegate whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.” [Wikipedia]

Prior to the Obama administration, there had been only three known cases resulting in indictments in which the 1917 US Espionage Act was used to prosecute government officials for leaks. (Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo 1971, Samuel Morison 1985 and Lawrence Franklin 2005. There is a similar case dating from 1945.)

The Obama Administration added seven cases to the list. That is right: 7 out of 10 under one President.

In June 2017, Reality Leigh Winner was arrested and charged with “willful retention and transmission of national defense information,” a felony under the Espionage Act.

Her arrest was announced on June 5 after The Intercept published an article describing Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, based on classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked to them anonymously.

The Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918

 

REFERENCES

Espionage Act of 1917 — Wikipedia

The Espionage Act’s Troubling Origins — Electronic Frontier Foundation

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This Day In History — US 1918 Sedition Act Repealed (March 3 1921)

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