WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could soon be indicted on spying charges under the U.S. Espionage Act, according to an ABC news report.
The report quotes Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson as saying that charges against the WikiLeaks founder for his role in the ongoing release of thousands of classified U.S. State Department cables, are "imminent."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has previously said that his office is investigating the possibility of criminally prosecuting Assange for the leaks under the Espionage Act or under other applicable statutes.
Others such as Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have also called for Assange to be prosecuted for leaking the documents, an act that they have claim put U.S. lives at risk.
Assange is now in jail in London after he turned himself in to authorities there earlier this week. The 39-year-old Assange, an Australian national, is wanted in Sweden on sexual molestation and rape charges. He is being held without bail and his next court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Any move by the U.S to prosecute Assange on U.S. spy charges could run into challenges . A report released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) this week makes it clear that using the Espionage Act or other spying-related statutes to go after Assange would be both unprecedented and legally problematic.
"We are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it," the CRS report bluntly noted. Such an action would have First Amendment implications, and political ramifications "based on concerns about government censorship."
In addition, prosecuting a foreign national whose actions were conducted entirely overseas carries with it certain foreign policy implications and would raise questions related to extraterritorial jurisdiction, the CRS said.
Almost all cases involving the Espionage Act have involved U.S. nationals who had access to classified data before handing it over to foreign agents. And there's nothing in the language of the Espionage Act to suggest it can be applied to foreign nationals operating outside the U.S.
Though a few other statues can be applied in this case, "leaks of classified information to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes," the CRS said.
In the ABC report, Assange's lawyer argued that any indictment of Assange under the Espionage Act would be unconstitutional and would violate First Amendment protections.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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