ARCHIVED: Urge Senators to Oppose "The Official Secrets Act"

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Protect Open Government and the First Amendment—
Urge Senators to Oppose "The Official Secrets Act"

August 16, 2006

BACKGROUND

S. 3774, a bill To amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, was introduced by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) on August 2, 2006. Endorsed by eleven other senators, it would criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Bond's bill would give the executive branch broad discretion to prosecute individuals engaged in disclosure of government secrets because it allows for the prosecution of individuals without proving that a disclosure poses a threat to national security. We believe that government transparency and accountability are vital to a democratic society and that Bond's legislation is an ill-advised, draconian measure.

S. 3774 uses the same language as the highly controversial legislation vetoed by President Clinton late in 2000. To date, Congress has refused to pass legislation that would make it a crime for any person to willfully disclose, for any purpose whatsoever, information classified as secret or top secret.

The primary concern with S. 3774 is that it would be an attack on the First Amendment rights of the press, whistleblowers, and others whose intention it is to monitor government actions and ensure that the government does not abuse or overstep its authority. The legislation would severely inhibit the ability of individuals to serve as a legitimate check on the executive branch.

ACTION NEEDED

The Senate is currently on its August recess, which runs through Labor Day. S. 3774 could be quickly pushed through as an attachment to other legislation when the Senate reconvenes in September. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and every member of the committee needs to hear from his or her constituents. If your Senator is listed below as a member of the committee, please call or send an email urging them to oppose this legislation and protect the First Amendment. You can reach your Senator through the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or via email at http://www.senate.gov/general/ contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. Below are talking points to use in your correspondences.

  • It is our strong belief that the public has a right to know important information pertaining to government actions, particularly when that information is used as a check on the executive branch.

  • S. 3774 challenges the First Amendment rights of all Americans. Open government and access to government information are important to our democracy, and the press serves as a vital mechanism for reporting certain types of government information that the public otherwise would not have access to.

  • S. 3774 creates a new federal felony crime which is subject to fines and up to three years imprisonment for making an unauthorized disclosure of any information if there is "reason to believe" the information has been properly classified. This suppresses the media and their ability to keep the public informed.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

MAJORITY

Alabama
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R)

Arizona
Sen. Jon Kyl (R)

Iowa
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R)

Kansas
Sen. Sam Brownback (R)

Ohio
Sen .Mike DeWine (R)

Oklahoma
Sen. Tom Coburn (R)

Pennsylvania
Sen. Arlen Specter (R), Chairman

South Carolina
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)

Texas
Sen. John Cornyn (R)

Utah
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R)

MINORITY

California
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Delaware
Sen .Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D)

Illinois
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D)

Massachusetts
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D)

New York
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D)

Vermont
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D), Ranking Member

Wisconsin
Sen .Russ Feingold (D)
Sen. Herbert Kohl (D)