Homeland Security Threatens Legal Action Against Employees Who Read News About Leaks

Homeland Security Threatens Legal Action Against Employees Who Read News About Leaks (TechDirt, July 18, 2013):

We’ve talked about procedures within the Defense Department to block computers from accessing the website for The Guardian newspaper — along with similarly short-sighted moves to apply a sledgehammer approach to pretending that public information isn’t really public. I’ve heard from a few people within the Defense Department who defend this approach on basic procedural grounds of trying to “make sure” that classified info remains classified, but the real problem is considering any publicly revealed documents as still classified. As I’ve said each time this debate comes up, in the business world, the equivalent situation involving trade secrets or non-disclosure agreements almost always are recognized as null and void if the info becomes public through other means.

However, that’s not the way the government works. The latest is that Homeland Security sent around a memo warning employees that merely opening up a Washington Post article about some of the leaks might violate their non-disclosure agreement to “protect National Security Information,” and it even says that merely clicking on the story might make the reader “subject to any administrative or legal action from the Government.” Got that? Working for the government and merely reading the news about things the government is doing might subject you to legal action.

Stunning.

At least someone in Congress realizes the insanity of all of this. Rep. Alan Grayson, who displayed the very same NSA slides that DHS is warning its employees about in Congress itself, has offered up an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill, stating that nothing in the defense appropriations should be used to block employees from reading the news on their own time.

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to restrict the access of members of the Armed Forces to publically available online news media during morale, welfare, and recreation periods.

While this is one way to deal with the problem, I still think you solve a lot more problems with a basic recognition of reality: if classified documents become public, they shouldn’t be considered classified any more, because (a) that’s stupid and (b) it actually hinders the ability of government employees to be as knowledgeable as everyone else in the world. Also, Grayson’s amendment only applies to the members of the armed forces, but not to civilian employees of the Department of Defense, or any employees of Homeland Security, who are subject to the crazy threats above.

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