Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden violated secrecy agreements and non-disclosure obligations to the United States when he failed to submit his book and speeches to the government for prepublication review, a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled on Tuesday, December 17th.
The Department of Justice filed the lawsuit against Snowden in September, arguing that Snowden had “voluntarily, willingly, and knowingly” entered into contractual agreements when he was first employed at the CIA and NSA, and that he had broken them by publishing his new memoir, Permanent Record, and delivering a number of public lectures that contained sensitive information.
Because of his failure to submit these materials to the government for prepublication review, the DoJ argued that the government was entitled to all proceeds he derived from publication.
In response to the DoJ’s lawsuit, Snowden’s lawyers argued that the government does not apply prepublication rules consistently, and would have likely discriminated against Snowden had he submitted his book or speeches for review. They also pointed out that much of the information in the book and speeches were already publicly available.
In his opinion, District Judge Liam O’Grady said that both of Snowden’s arguments failed because “mere public availability does not place information or materials in the public domain.” He wrote that information is considered public with “official disclosure.”
“The contracts are clear that even tangentially related information or material–indeed, even fictional works–are subject to prepublication review,” Judge O’Grady wrote.
Edward Snowden said on Twitter that he hopes the government’s attempts to prevent his book’s publication “only inspires [people to] read it–and gift it to another.”
The ruling only addressed Snowden’s liability for breaching his government contract, not how much money the government was entitled to recover nor how it would do so.
According to The Washington Post, Snowden’s attorney’s “disagree with the court’s decision” and “will review their options”.
Numerous free expression groups have criticized the government’s current process of prepublication review for being overly broad and discriminatory. In April 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the DoJ on behalf of five former intelligence officials. The complaint contends that the government’s prepublication review process violates the Fifth Amendment because the material that is censored is oftentimes unnecessary, unexplained, and/or subjective based on the author’s viewpoint. They also alleged that officials who are less critical of the agencies are treated more favorably and given expedited reviews.