Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning work on Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance, has been charged under Brazilian computer crimes laws.
Last year The Intercept Brasil, which Greenwald co-founded in 2016, published a set of investigative articles based on leaked phone messages. These articles raised serious questions about the conduct of the long-running anti-corruption investigation Operation Car Wash, which had led to the conviction and imprisonment of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The Intercept’s reporting showed, among other things, that Sérgio Moro, the judge presiding over the investigation, had been strategising with the prosecution behind the scenes. Moro is now Minister of Justice in Jair Bolsonaro’s government.
Partly as a result of Greenwald’s reporting, former President Lula was released from prison in late 2019.
In a statement published on twitter, Greenwald said that he would not be deterred by the charges and pointed out that both Brazilian courts and the nation’s police force had previously found that he had no case to answer.
In August last year, a judge in Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that Greenwald had engaged in entirely legitimate journalistic activity and that subjecting him to criminal investigation would constitute a breach of the country’s constitution. Prosecutors now claim that new evidence has been found.
The charges against Greenwald appear to share disturbing similarities with the prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who faces the prospect of extradition from the UK to the United States in an unprecedented Espionage Act prosecution for journalistic activity. Rather like what is happening in the Assange case, the criminal complaint against Greenwald treats the receipt of information as a crime and reframes normal journalist-source communications as criminal conspiracy.
As we have previously noted in our Perugia Principles, there are particular concerns about the use of computer crimes laws against journalists. Not only do these statutes typically not include public interest defences, prosecutors unfamiliar with the digital terrain can be tempted to adopt inappropriately broad interpretations of these laws, deeming normal activities criminal just because they happen to be achieved using electronic communications devices.
As the ACLU note in their statement, the aggressiveness of the Trump Administration’s assault on source document-based national security journalism is now leading to a deteriorating conditions for American journalists abroad. Together with developments in other Five Eyes countries, today’s announcement marks a further deterioration in what is an increasingly difficult climate, not just for national security journalism, but for all investigative reporting.