But prosecutors in the country took their efforts to a new level on Tuesday with hacking charges. Press freedom groups fear the allegations are an attempt to criminalize routine reporting methods.
Officials in Brazil’s Public Ministry allege that Greenwald’s attempts to coax information out of sources and coach them on covering their tracks made him part of a “criminal organization” that hacked public officials’ phones. The information those sources gleaned from private chats and documents exposed the shady dealings of an anti-corruption task force that helped pave the way for President Jair Bolsonaro’s rise.
The charges fit within a larger pattern of Trumpian antagonism toward the news media from Bolsonaro. A spokesperson for The Intercept, Greenwald’s publication, condemned the legal action as a “blatantly politically motivated” attack in a statement to VICE News Tuesday.
“The Bolsonaro government has repeatedly made it clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms,” Rodrigo Brandão said. “Today’s announcement that a criminal complaint has been filed against Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald is the latest example of journalists facing serious threats in Brazil.”
It’s also a sign that democratically elected governments including in the U.S. are growing more comfortable cracking down on journalists for publishing information originally obtained illegally, even if it’s in the public interest. The pressure effectively criminalizes much of the work that Greenwald and other investigative reporters produce.
In a statement on Tuesday, Greenwald — who lives in Brazil with his husband — painted the allegations as retaliation for The Intercept’s investigations.
“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists,” he said.
The charges came months after a 10-part Intercept series that suggested that an investigation into Bolsonaro’s predecessor was a sham. The exposés, Greenwald and his colleagues wrote in June, were “based on a massive archive of previously undisclosed materials — including private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation — provided to us by an anonymous source.”
Ensuing revelations reached as high as the Minister of Justice’s office and suggested government officials misused their power for political ends. They sent shockwaves through the political establishment and drew denunciations from Bolsonaro, who’s earned comparisons to Trump.
Authorities in the country subsequently investigated Greenwald’s reporting practices but found no wrongdoing. And a Brazilian Supreme Court judge subsequently argued in August that similar inquiries would be unconstitutional.