ASSANGE EXTRADITION: Why the Crumbling Computer Conspiracy Case Is So Vital to the US, by Catherine Vogan

The US case against Julian Assange now rests on a weak allegation of conspiracy to commit computer hacking. From Catherine Vogan at consortiumnews.com:

Since the U.S. is on shaky constitutional ground with the espionage indictment, the computer intrusion charge has served as a hook to try to get Assange, by portraying him not as a journalist, but as a hacker, writes Cathy Vogan.

While most of the talk about the Julian Assange case is about the espionage charges, which are political in nature, the U.S. case hangs by a thread for the second time on the non-political charge: conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

There is a reason why the computer charge is so vital to the U.S. case. Charging a journalist with espionage for unauthorized possession and dissemination of defense information has been possible since 1917, but it runs the risk of violating the First Amendment.

The tradition has been instead to charge leakers and hackers for breach of an oath, contract or firewall. The legal and public perception of hacking is that it is much like burglary; something generally feared and whose punishment by the state is not subject to political debate or opposing laws; but rather welcomed. The intrusion charge shifts public and legal perception.

Since the U.S. is on shaky constitutional ground with the espionage indictment, the computer intrusion charge has served as a hook to try to get Assange, by portraying him not as a journalist, but as a hacker. Underscoring the difference between the two is fundamental to the U.S. case.

That’s why the U.S. prosecutor, James Lewis QC, on the opening day of Assange’s extradition hearing in February 2020 turned to the press in the courtroom and told them journalism was not the target of the U.S. prosecution. He said Assange was not a journalist and instead had participated in the theft of government documents. In other words: he’s not a journalist like you, but a hacker.

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