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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Publishing classified information leads to search of reporter’s private email account

U.S. authorities used an affidavit as legal means to search a journalist’s private emails after he published classified national defense information. The U.S. state department official who gave the information to the journalist will likely serve a 13-month prison sentence for passing classified information to a journalist.

A story James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News, published about North Korea in June 2009, specifically the detail that North Korean sources informed the CIA that North Korea would conduct new nuclear tests in retaliation of recent UN sanctions, brought the FBI (with affidavit in hand) to Rosen’s private email account, according to an article from BBC News.

The state department intelligence adviser, Stephen Kim, admitted and pleaded guilty to the unapproved disclosure of U.S. national defense intelligence.

David Ingram, writing for Reuters, described the frustration from journalists and freedom of the press proponents regarding the search of Rosen’s private emails, as journalists have generally been able to publish government secrets without being prosecuted. 

In developments last year that drew outcry from advocates for press freedom, the FBI obtained Rosen’s emails as part of its investigation into Kim and described Rosen in a search warrant affidavit as a possible criminal co-conspirator.

Ingram also wrote that Rosen has not been charged and the Justice Department said it will not seek future charges against the Fox News reporter. 

On Obama’s orders, the Justice Department revised its guidelines and said it would not seek search warrants against journalists for carrying out “ordinary news-gathering activities.”

Read the entire Reuters article here.

This recent case is among a total of 8 court cases prosecuting alleged government leaks since Obama became President in 2009, and only the 11th in U.S. history. The most prominent in this series of prosecutions are Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who each disclosed many thousands of classified government documents in 2013.

While Rosen, the journalist involved in this recent case, was not prosecuted for reporting the classified information, national security, whistle blowers and government secrets continue to be widely contested issues for journalists and media outlets. While the government cites national security for the rise in the prosecution of leaks, a growing concern is that journalists won’t publish classified information for fear of prosecution. 

To engage in this ongoing debate, join the Center for Journalism Ethics’ annual conference Surveillance, Security and Journalism Ethics to discuss the issues facing 21st century journalism in a world of Wikileaks, NSA sweeps, corporate cooperation, whistleblowers and data mining May 2.

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