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On June 15, 1917, just two months after the United States entered World War I, Congress adopted the Espionage Act. The act, which was meant to define the act of espionage during wartime, put new limits to Americans’ First Amendment rights. The Espionage Act gave the federal government increased leverage to prosecute what it considered unruly elements. Though the charge of espionage included “promot[ing] the success of [the United States’] enemies” it also encompassed a much greater swath of possible violators. Based on the terms dictated by Congress, anyone who interfered with or attempted to undermine the United States’ war effort could be prosecuted under the law and face a 20-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
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