Legal Case Summary
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - and - JULIAN PAUL ASSANGE  EWHC 3313
Short case name: USA v Julian Assange
See also: Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority
Table of Contents
Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, was indicted by the United States in 2019 on the charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions (DOJ, 2019). The indictment asserted that Assange helped the former U.S. army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, crack a password hash to a classified U.S. Department of Defense computer, leading to the leak of numerous classified documents (DOJ, 2019).
The primary legal issue centres on whether Assange's actions constitute a crime under the United States law, specifically the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The secondary issue pertains to freedom of the press, as Assange's defence maintains that his actions align with the activities of investigative journalists worldwide, thus, prosecution would infringe upon the First Amendment rights (The Guardian, 2020).
Holding and Rule
The grand jury returned an indictment, holding that Assange knowingly accessed a U.S. Government computer system illegally, exceeding his authorised access to obtain classified information regarding U.S. national security (DOJ, 2019). The password-cracking agreement constituted an act in furtherance of the crime, irrespective of its success or otherwise (DOJ, 2019). On the secondary issue, the ruling has yet to be conclusively determined as Assange's case is currently under appeal.
In January 2021, Judge Vanessa Baraitser in the United Kingdom ruled against Assange's extradition to the United States, citing concerns over his mental health and risk of suicide in U.S. prison conditions (BBC, 2021). The U.S. Department of Justice has since appealed the ruling, pledging to assuage UK's concerns about Assange's health while in custody (BBC, 2021).
Information for Journalists
Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and publisher, faced legal issues related to his work with WikiLeaks, a website known for publishing classified government documents. The United States wanted to extradite him from the UK to face charges related to the release of sensitive information. The key accusations against Assange included the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
Assange argued that he was acting as a journalist and should be protected under freedom of the press. However, the US government argued that his actions went beyond traditional journalism by assisting in the theft of classified information. They claimed that he encouraged and aided a former US Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, to obtain and leak classified documents.
The case raised important questions about the boundaries between journalism, whistleblowing, and criminal activity. It sparked debates about the role of publishers and journalists in handling classified information and the potential implications for press freedom.
In the end, the extradition request from the US was denied by a British court, primarily due to concerns about Assange's mental health and the conditions he might face in US custody. However, the legal and ethical issues surrounding his case continue to be a subject of global discussion, with implications for the future of journalism and the protection of journalistic sources.
- DOJ (Department of Justice), 2019. Julian Assange Charged in 18-Count Superseding Indictment. Press Release. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-charged-18-count-superseding-indictment
- The Guardian, 2020. Timeline: Julian Assange's fight against extradition. Available online: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2023/jun/09/julian-assange-dangerously-close-to-us-extradition-after-losing-latest-legal-appeal
- BBC News, 2021. Julian Assange cannot be extradited to US, court rules. Available online: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59608641
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