America's mass surveillance is eroding freedom of the press, freedom of speech and democracy

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(NaturalNews) Massive U.S. surveillance programs limit the ability of journalists and reporters to communicate confidentially with sources while restraining lawyers from adequately representing their clients, says a new report issued in late July by a pair of advocacy groups.

The result, according to the report, is that journalists and lawyers face increasing challenges, both in their ability to disseminate information and to hold the U.S. government to account, The Wall Street Journal and other media reported.

The report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union says that the federal government's "massively powerful surveillance apparatus" ultimately limits and jeopardizes privacy required by both professions.

"[J]ournalists and their sources, as well as lawyers and their clients, are changing their behavior in ways that undermine basic rights and corrode democratic processes," said the report, which is titled, "With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law and American Democracy."

'Government officials see no harm in the programs'

According to a press release describing the report:

[It] is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior US government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public's right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

Researchers conducted 92 interviews -- 46 with journalists, 42 with attorneys and four with current or former senior government officials. The latter group interviewed provided a counterpoint to the conclusions in the report, which was consistent with their view that the surveillance programs are legal and also vital to U.S. national security, said G. Alex Sinha, author of the report and a fellow at the Human Rights Watch.

The government officials didn't see the harm posed by large-scale surveillance programs.

"They're not in general convinced that there is a chilling effect of the sort that we were talking about," Sinha said. He added that the officials believed that the continued appearance of classified information in the news indicated that there was no problem.

But journos covering intelligence, national security and law enforcement who were cited in the report said that widespread surveillance programs have only grown in size and scope, especially since 9/11, and that intensified concerns about the Obama Administration's crackdown on those who leak information to the media. The White House has sought to limit unauthorized leaks through increased prosecutions of leakers and rules issued in March that limit contact between reporters and the intelligence community.

'Harder to obtain and disseminate information'

"What makes government better is our work exposing information. It's not just that it's harder for me to do my job, though it is," Dana Priest, a reporter for The Washington Post, was quoted as saying in the report. "It also makes the country less safe. Institutions work less well, and it increases the risk of corruption. Secrecy works against all of us."

The report found that the new new rules, coupled with the surveillance, meant that public officials were less likely to have contact with the media than they were just a few years ago. Also, the report found that the surveillance programs are hindering government officials' ability to remain anonymous when they communicate with reporters; phone calls and emails leave a digital footprint, which can be traced and later used against the so-called "offender."

This climate makes it harder for journalists to obtain and disseminate information about government activities, the report said, adding that government sources fear losing jobs and security clearances, as well as prosecution.

Lawyers said the surveillance programs make it more difficult to confer confidentially with clients when the government takes an intelligence interest in a case.


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