Reporters Without Borders released its latest World Press Freedom Index last week, and the U.S. ranked an unimpressive 41st out of 180 countries—landing between Slovenia and Burkina Faso in West Africa. While that’s better than being in the bottom half, we suppose, clearly this is a report card with room for improvement.
The U.S.’s less-than-stellar position is based on a couple of troubling factors. One is what it tabs a government war on whistleblowers that leak information about surveillance activities linked to counterterrorism. Another is the absence of a federal shield law “guaranteeing [journalists’] right not to reveal their sources and other confidential work-related information.”
Almost all states have some form of shield law, and bipartisan efforts to pass a federal law have been mounted periodically for a couple of decades. We recall attending a press conference on Capitol Hill more than a decade ago for an effort that fizzled in the face of opposition by federal law enforcement.
It’s not just journalists that need to be concerned. Perhaps there should be a law shielding smartphone owners from having their information shared with the government by default through encryption back doors. Fighting crime is important, but not at the expense of journalistic and personal freedoms.
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