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The practice of journalism and of law in the United States is being dramatically, negatively harmed by large-scale surveillance by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. That's the finding of a new report from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, who conclude "[s]urveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people’s ability to hold their government to account."

Researchers conducted exhaustive interviews with senior government officials, attorneys, and journalists to complete the 102-page report, "With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy."

“People are increasingly scared to talk about anything,” observed one Pulitzer Prize winner, including unclassified matters that are of legitimate public concern. […]

This situation has a direct effect on the public’s ability to obtain important information about government activities, and on the ability of the media to serve as a check on government, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.

Journalists expressed concern that, rather than being treated as essential checks on government and partners in ensuring a healthy democratic debate, they may be viewed as suspect for doing their jobs. One prominent journalist summed up what many seemed to be feeling: “I don’t want the government to force me to act like a spy. I’m not a spy; I’m a journalist.” […]

As with the journalists, lawyers increasingly feel pressure to adopt strategies to avoid leaving a digital trail that could be monitored. Some use burner phones, others seek out technologies designed to provide security, and still others reported traveling more for in-person meetings. Like journalists, some feel frustrated, and even offended, that they are in this situation. “I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said one.

The result of the anxieties over confidentiality is the erosion of the right to counsel, a pillar of procedural justice under human rights law and the US Constitution, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.

Chipping away at the surveillance state to address all of the issues this report uncovered is a huge challenge. It starts with Sen. Patrick Leahy's NSA reform bill, which he'll introduce Tuesday. Leahy's bill would at least end bulk collection of Americans' data and the ability of intelligence agencies to sift through that information at will. That's just a start, but an important one.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 06:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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