Julian Assange

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London in April 2019.

Photo Credit: Jack Taylor / Getty Images


Australian hacker and self-proclaimed journalist Julian Assange propelled himself to international notoriety in October 2010 when his online data repository, WikiLeaks, published troves of confidential documents about the U.S.’s cataclysmic escapade in Iraq. The leak kicked off a headline-catching saga that has rekindled unresolved debates about the ethics of state secrecy, public security, and the evergreen tension between the two. Evicted from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2019, Assange—now in British custody—has been charged with violating more than a dozen counts of the Espionage Act, a WW1-era law that criminalizes the dissemination of information that harms American national security. Journalists and free speech advocates contend that using that law to convict Assange could drastically undermine press freedom.   

The Incident and its Aftermath

WikiLeaks—its Mission and Methods
Turning Point: The Iraq War Logs
On the Run
Skim the U.S. Government’s indictments:
International advocacy in 2023:

Point / Counterpoint

Discussion Questions

  1. Does society need an organization like WikiLeaks? Is there something inherently flawed with the WikiLeaks methodology? If you could reform WikiLeaks in any way—its methods, its oversight, etc.—what would you change and why?
  2. How does WikiLeaks compare to a traditional news outlet? Are they fundamentally different (and, as such, deserving of different treatment), or is attempting to distinguish them splitting hairs?  
  3. Is Julian Assange a journalist? Were his actions (in the context of the 2010 leak) journalistic? Does the designation even matter? 
  4. Try to view Assange’s actions through the eyes of a government prosecutor—in what ways might an indictment under the Espionage Act be legitimate and sensible? Will prosecuting Assange under the Espionage Act morph into wider assaults on freedom of the press, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, or are such fears exaggerated? What punishment (if any) does Assange deserve? 
  5. Government officials and reporters alike have criticized Assange for needlessly exposing American security methods and sources. Many journalists stress that few respectable members of their profession would divulge so much sensitive information with such wanton indiscretion. The U.S. government claims this indiscretion endangered the lives of Americans and their foreign collaborators. What should remain a secret (and why)? Who should draw that line?


Click on these themes below: National Security + Press  + Legal Action

Discuss: What does this confluence of stories with these filters tell us about Free Speech issues surrounding leaking classified information? The role of Free Speech in holding governments accountable?

Tracker Entries



This course module was prepared by Jaime Moore-Carrillo, who joined the Free Speech Project in 2019 and served as principal research assistant for two years. The Boston native now works as a reporter.