Star Lawyer Alan Dershowitz: 'Assange Is a New Kind of Journalist'
Alan Dershowitz has recently become part of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal team. He spoke with SPIEGEL about what the First Amendment has to say about WikiLeaks and the legal implications of social media's role in the Arab uprisings.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. "If they try to prosecute Assange for merely publishing material, we will have a very strong defense."
SPIEGEL: You have joined Julian Assange's defense team to cover "American aspects" of potential charges against him. What kind of criminal investigation are you expecting in the US?
SPIEGEL: That famous case gave media outlets like the New York Times the right to publish critical reports about the Vietnam War even though the administration saw them as a threat to national security. Can Assange be considered a journalist and have similar protection?
Dershowitz: Without a doubt. He is a journalist, a new kind of journalist. This is the Pentagon Papers case of the 21st century involving new media and a much more international form of journalism. The Internet knows no national borders. The US encourages the use of new media in countries such as Iran and Egypt, and we must make it clear to the government that it cannot apply double standards to the use of those media when it affects American interests. In any case, we do not believe that the US has jurisdiction over foreign individuals and entities such as Wikileaks that have never before been active in the US.
SPIEGEL: So the key issue in this case would be whether posting the secret information that Assange received is protected under freedom of expression or, as the US government would argue, a threat to national security?
SPIEGEL: The US administration has asked for access to the Twitter accounts of Assange and others. What precedent does this set in the online context?
Dershowitz: It raises very broad issues about a right of association. People associate over the Internet and some people want to associate anonymously, i.e. simply to be a recipient of material. That right of anonymous association has to be protected. There are analogous cases: Back in the 1960s, the state governments tried to get lists of members of the NAACP -- the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- at that time a controversial organization. The United States Supreme Court prevented state governments from getting those lists because they would hamper freedom of association and deter people from joining or associating with the NAACP. The same thing is true here. If the government can create lists of all people who have had contact with WikiLeaks, it will deter people from using social media in this way. This then has implications for Iran, for Egypt, and for the world in general. The Tunisian revolution began with Internet leaks and the Egyptian revolution began with anonymous Facebook postings. We want to make sure that this right is fully preserved in the US as well.
Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz
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