In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Espionage Act of 1917, FIRE’s First Amendment Library now features a timeline on “The History of the Alien, Sedition, Espionage, & Related Acts.”
The Espionage Act made it a crime to obtain information regarding national defense “with intent or reason to believe” that the information will be used to hurt the United States or to advantage another country. While subsequent amendments and court decisions have refined its language and scope, its core purpose has remained the same.
The Espionage Act continues to be one of the most controversial statutes affecting the First Amendment. From the imprisonment of socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs for his 1918 speech opposing World War I to the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner this month for allegedly leaking a classified National Security Agency memo detailing Russian cyberattacks on U.S. voting software, the Espionage Act has had a consistent impact on federal efforts to protect national security and how speech is used by citizens who oppose those efforts.
We hope this timeline informs our readers about the Espionage Act’s impact on the First Amendment and will spark conversations on campuses across the nation about the implications of the act.
Looking for more resources on the Espionage Act? Head on over to First Amendment Library Editor in Chief Ronald Collins’ blog for Concurring Opinions.