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Leakers, Whistleblowers and Where is the Line that Divides Journalism and Cybercrime?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The last couple of years have provided some watershed moments in the history of journalism. Journalists have been targeted and murdered, they’ve destroyed the legitimacy major of political parties, they’ve penetrated the digital gates that protect national security secrets and at times, whether intentionally or inadvertently, they have become as big as the stories they were covering.


One such moment occurred this week in South America, as Pulitzer Prize winning American Journalist Glenn Greenwald, now a resident of Brazil, was charged by Brazilian prosecutors of providing assistance to a group of hackers who were monitoring the phone calls of politicians involved in what is being reported to be a major corruption inquiry. Previously, the country's highest court had blocked investigations that were conducted by Greenwald that were reported by his Brazil-based news outlet regarding the ongoing corruption inquiry.

The charges are being slammed by many in the Brazilian and international media as an attempt to stifle free speech as Greenwald has previously been critical of the country’s leadership, and specifically right-leaning President Jair Bolsonaro and has characterized the charges against him as “an attack to the freedom of the press."

But should defending the right to privacy really be considered an attack against free speech or journalistic freedom here? Should evidence obtained via a non-governmental and potentially politically motivated investigation provide a moral justification for journalists like Greenwald to break the law?

If the same set of circumstances had occurred in America, the actions taken by Greenwald and his hacker associates would constitute a crime, and rightfully so, whether you support the theoretical party under investigation or not. The law is the law, and if you’re hacking a private citizen’s phone, you’re breaking the law. If elements within the American government were to execute such an operation, without having either legally justifiable probable cause or without following the appropriate legal procedures to obtain a warrant, that too would be a crime.


Some of you may ask, “Without Journalists going to these great lengths, how can a citizenry ensure that the tool of journalism can be used to protect the people from governmental corruption?” Great question. In America, we’ve seen Wikileaks, the international not-for-profit organization that publishes news leaks and classified media and its founder Julian Assange come under fire for taking actions that while technically illegal at times, exposed an arguably higher level of criminality occurring in major organizations including the Democratic National Committee.

Wikileaks informed American voters, many of whom donated a large volume of smaller donations to Democratic presidential primary runner-up Bernie Sanders, that his was a campaign doomed to failure regardless of their best efforts, in a ruse that was orchestrated by DNC leadership and operatives including former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and former DNC Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall.

Although a class-action lawsuit against the DNC would be thrown out in court by Federal Judge William Zloch, that was not before the court conceded that, “For their part, the DNC and Wasserman Schultz have characterized the DNC charter’s promise of ‘impartiality and evenhandedness’ as a mere political promise—political rhetoric that is not enforceable in federal courts.”


This was just as bad, if not worse than Marshall’s attempt to hurt Bernie Sanders with southern voters using his Jewish faith, as he wrote in an email, "This (Bernie’s Faith) could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist."

Although the damaging emails from Wasserman-Shultz, Marshall and Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign manager were accessed using the illegal method of email phishing, many Americans, particularly conservatives and Trump supporters, were content to look the other way on the illegality involved in their procurement. Eventually, Julian Assange would be detained, and he currently awaits a February extradition hearing regarding his involvement with hacking a US Government computer in coordination with former member of the US Armed Forces, Chelsea Manning.

The First Amendment in America has long been held as the global standard for the assurance of a free and fair citizens’ press. As journalists continue to toe, but not cross, the line that separates reporting and intrusion, necessitation and salaciousness, and possibly most importantly, legal and illegal, nanny-staters and proponents of censorship will have a hard time redefining our basic constitutional rights. When that line is crossed, the laws designed to protect the safety and reputation of innocent parties must be enforced.


Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by websites including Townhall, The Hill, Newsmax and American Thinker.

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