Reality Winner’s Harsh Sentence Will Chill Whistleblowers from Disclosing Information the Public Needs to Know

August 23, 2018

Reality Winner, a former government contractor, was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for disclosing to a news outlet a classified National Security Agency document describing a cyberattack directed by the Russian military against U.S. voting systems. The Espionage Act, under which the Justice Department prosecuted Winner, has been criticized by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University for its failure to distinguish between disclosures in the public interest and disclosures that compromise national security.

In response to reports of Winner’s sentence, Knight Institute Executive Director Jameel Jaffer issued the following statement:

“The harsh sentence imposed on Reality Winner will send a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers, and deprive the public of crucial information about official corruption, incompetence, and abuse of power. From President Trump's revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance to today's harsh sentencing of Reality Winner, the last two weeks have provided spectacular confirmation that our system of protecting secrets is deeply broken and itself a profound threat to our democracy.”

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.