Tell the Department of Justice: Stop muzzling whistleblowers and journalists with the Espionage Act

It takes enormous courage to come forward as a whistleblower alleging wrongdoing or corruption by the U.S. government. Often, these brave souls are fired, demoted, ostracized, or attacked in the media for revealing information in the public interest. At worst, whistleblowers can face serious criminal charges — and sometimes years in prison.

It isn’t supposed to be this way. Under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the Department of Justice established a series of rights and resources designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, including a national hotline under the Office of Inspector General.[1]

Despite the critical importance of whistleblowers, both the Obama and Trump administrations found a workaround and dramatically stepped up prosecutions using a different law: the Espionage Act, a wartime law from 1917.[2]

Espionage Act prosecutions do not allow whistleblowers to explain their motives or make a public interest defense. Judges have even barred juries in these cases from hearing the words “overclassification,” “whistleblower,” and “First Amendment.”[3]

Prosecuting those who shine a light on government abuses is harmful to the public interest and an affront to freedom of speech. It’s time for the Justice Department to protect whistleblowers, not lock them up.

It’s the hallmark of fascist and authoritarian regimes to equate journalism, whistleblowing, and truth-telling with espionage. It is entirely unacceptable for a democratic society to do the same.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department can take an important step forward for democracy and freedom of the press by protecting whistleblowers instead of prosecuting them. That’s why we’re demanding action today.

Add your name to send your message to the Department of Justice now.

Tell Merrick Garland and the Justice Department:
Stop prosecuting whistleblowers with the Espionage Act now.

[1] "Whistleblower Rights and Protections," U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
[2] "Biden Should End Espionage Act Prosecutions of Whistleblowers and Journalists," The Intercept.
[3] "It’s Time to Reform the Espionage Act," Defending Rights and Dissent.

The language below echoes a 2018 open letter organized by Defending Rights and Dissent. A previous version of this page failed to acknowledge their contribution; they have since joined as a cosponsor of this campaign. The Intercept regrets the mistake.

Full Petition:

To: Attorney General Merrick Garland
U.S. Department of Justice

It is entirely inappropriate to use a law aimed at spies and saboteurs against individuals who act in good faith to bring government misconduct to the attention of the public. Furthermore, this ongoing practice makes a mockery of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, as well as the Department of Justice’s public commitments that whistleblowers should be protected from retaliation.

Journalism is not espionage — and the use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers makes a mockery of our democratic values.

I call on you and the Department of Justice to immediately stop using the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers. This practice must end if America is to retain any pretense of being a democratic and open society that values freedom of the press, and accountability from its government.