The Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying, or PRESS Act, now has strong bipartisan support, with 20 co-sponsors. This milestone comes shortly after the bill received unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee back in July.
The breadth of support for this measure is impressive. It was introduced by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). Co-sponsors range from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), from Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA) to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), from Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
They support one answer to the following question: Should the government be free to dig into the records, notes, phone logs and emails of journalists or subpoena them into federal courts to catch a leaker? Their answer is a resounding “no.”
Perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the sponsors hail from California, which has strong laws that protect journalists, their notes and by implication, their sources.
The California Constitution and the California Evidence Code, as interpreted by the California Supreme Court, are “shield laws” that give broad protection to journalists’ notes and sources. Throughout the Golden State, reporters, editors, publishers, and others employed by all forms of media are immune from being held in contempt for protecting “confidential sources” and “unpublished information,” including their notes.
Every state has such a law except for Wyoming. The federal government does not.
As events spin into overdrive in Washington, D.C., Congressional leaders in both parties are coming to see the wisdom of following California’s example and tempering government actions by protecting the ability of journalists to get the straight, inside skinny from whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers need the assurance that the reporter with whom they speak in confidence cannot be compelled to betray their trust. The PRESS Act protects journalists and their sources. The PRESS Act establishes a federal statutory privilege shielding journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources. It would also block attempts to compel disclosure of account information from communications services used by reporters.
This is a reasonable bill, one that would allow the breaking of this privilege only in extreme circumstances. During the last Congress, the House approved the PRESS Act with a bipartisan, unanimous voice vote.
Rep. Kiley said: “As acknowledged by America’s founders, the freedom of the press to report on and disseminate information is critical to our republic. Our bipartisan legislation further codifies these First Amendment principles into law and will mitigate infringement upon the Constitution by the federal government.”
The acceptance of shield laws by the states shows that the principles of the PRESS Act are popular. At a time when trust is scarce, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see federal leaders in both parties pass a popular measure that enhances freedom and holds government accountable?
Bipartisan support for the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act just became stronger after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) signed on as a co-sponsor.
Sen. Graham and Protect The 1st’s own Senior Policy Advisor Rick Boucher – a long-time Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia – were co-sponsors of an earlier version of the bill. In the current Congress, Reps. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) are working across the aisle to secure wide support for the bill in the House, as are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate.
The PRESS Act would provide a federal shield law protecting journalists from surveillance or compelled disclosures of source materials, except in emergency situations. Forty-nine states have such a law, but the federal government does not.
The PRESS Act appeals to conservatives, who remember the Obama Administration’s targeting and spying on James Rosen of Fox News for reporting on North Korea’s nuclear program. And it appeals to liberals who want to safeguard the investigative role of reporters. Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the “PRESS Act creates critical protections for the fearless journalists who act as government watchdogs and keep us all informed.”
“The PRESS Act passed the U.S. House unanimously last year and was recently favorably reported again without dissent by the House Judiciary Committee,” said Rick Boucher. “We are heartened to see Sen. Graham join so many other leaders in both houses and both parties in standing up for a free press that enforces accountability on the government.”
Bob Goodlatte, Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also hailed Sen. Graham’s support for the PRESS Act.
“When the House again passes the PRESS Act, which seems likely, it is encouraging to also see strong bipartisan support emerging in the Senate,” Goodlatte said. “Sen. Graham’s leadership on the PRESS Act is a very welcome development.”
Will Outrage Prompt Congress to Pass the PRESS Act?
National outrage over a rural Kansas police department’s ransacking of a newspaper, the Marion County Record, will almost certainly result in a massive legal reckoning. But will its larger implications prompt Congress to move to protect journalists from similar interference by federal authorities?
Here’s the background: On Friday, the Marion police department launched simultaneous raids on the homes of a reporter, an 80-year-old councilwoman, and The Record’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, mother of editor Eric Meyer. According to the account in The Record, the trauma left Joan Meyer “stressed beyond her limits,” prompting her to quit eating, and to collapse and die the next day.
And for what? The Marion police launched this extreme execution of a search warrant to track down an informant who revealed a letter from a state agency about a local restauranteur’s DUI to a Record reporter. The newspaper ultimately chose not to print this story out of concern that the informant acted maliciously in revealing the restauranteur’s personal information.
“The police confiscation of virtually all of the equipment of a 4,000-circulation newspaper will be one for the textbooks in both law and journalism schools,” said Rick Boucher, Senior Policy Advisor to Protect The 1st and a former U.S. Representative from Virginia and Member of the House Judiciary Committee. “The seizure of a newsroom is an outrage that demonstrates that absent proper legal restraints, and sometimes even with them, some in officialdom will use a petty excuse to pry open a reporter’s notebooks.
“These events triggered a raid in which the police seized computers, servers and snatched cellphones,” he said. “The Record reports that one reporter’s hand was reinjured by having her phone forcibly jerked out of her hand. The police took so much equipment that the staff is scrambling to find a way to publish the newspaper’s next edition.
“The police did not just raid The Record, they potentially put it out of print. And as a result, the police – and the politicians they work for – now have ready access to vast amounts of confidential interviews, official contacts, and other investigations that any local paper customarily conducts into city hall.”
Boucher noted that the raid is likely a violation of the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980, opening the door to significant liability for the town.
“The larger takeaway from this event is the appetite that some in authority have to bully a sometimes nettlesome press,” Boucher said.
“Kansas, like most states, has a shield law that protects journalists and their sources,” he said. “Rather than taking the extreme step of raiding the newspaper’s office and seizing all of its records, if the police had probable cause to believe that stolen property was in the possession of the paper, a subpoena for the record in question would have put in motion a court proceeding at which a judge could have decided whether the Kansas shield law applies. It will be instructive to read the probable cause affidavit behind the search warrant that was issued.”
Boucher noted that the federal government, with its huge apparatus of prosecutors and surveillance, is restrained by no such law. While lawmakers and journalists in Kansas sort out how to avoid events like this, Congress should take this opportunity to pass the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act to give journalists at least some protection from official intimidation.
The PRESS Act passed the U.S. House unanimously last year and was recently favorably reported again without dissent by the House Judiciary Committee.
“The House should schedule a full vote when it returns in September,” Boucher said. “Action in the Senate should swiftly follow.”
Exhibit A for the PRESS Act – Judge Orders CBS’s Catherine Herridge to Reveal Her Confidential Sources
With perfect timing, Judge Christopher Cooper of the U.S. District Court in DC provided the U.S. Senate today with ample to reason to follow the example of the House and pass the PRESS Act. The judge seeks to compel CBS News senior correspondent Catherine Herridge to reveal her confidential source or sources for a news series she published when she was a journalist at Fox News.
Confidentiality is the lifeblood of a free press. From Watergate to Harvey Weinstein, confidential sources have helped journalists bring to light malfeasance and hidden crimes that otherwise would have continued. And a strong reporting culture is a counter to the growing surveillance state enabled by technology. That is why in September, 2022, the House unanimously passed the bipartisan Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying, or PRESS Act – and the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved it again on July 19 of this year.
This measure would bring the federal government up to speed with 49 states by shielding reporters from choosing between jail or ratting out whistleblowers and sources as ordered by a federal judge or prosecutor. The PRESS Act is reasonable legislation, allowing for exceptions in extreme cases.
Protect The 1st supports Herridge and all journalists who face similar dilemmas. This is all the more reason why the House should again pass this bill and the U.S. Senate should take up the PRESS Act when Congress returns after August recess.
PT1 is pleased that the House Judiciary Committee reported H.R. 4250, the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, to the full House by a unanimous 23-0 vote.
This bill, long supported by Protect The 1st and civil liberties sister organizations, would protect journalists and their sources by granting a privilege to shield confidential news sources in federal legal proceedings. It contains reasonable exceptions in cases where application of the privilege could result in serious harm.
Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), PT1 Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“The PRESS Act was approved today because courts continue to hold journalists in contempt and even jail them for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. The Committee today made a bold statement that this is not acceptable. I am heartened to see such a strong, bipartisan stand for a free and unintimidated press.”
Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and now as PT1 Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“Journalism and the right to report on government actions must be better protected. We’ve all seen law enforcement officials under multiple recent administrations issue secret orders to surveil the private communications of journalists. Their freedom to report on government misdeeds is critical to maintaining a free society, and I encourage the broader House of Representatives to swiftly approve this legislation, as they have in the past.”
We would like to extend our gratitude to Reps. Kiley and Raskin for their leadership in introducing the bill, as well as to Chairman Jordan and Ranking Member Nadler for their support in moving it through committee.
The PRESS Act’s passage is the result of overwhelming bipartisan support for freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Protect the 1st hopes the full House will take up and pass this important legislation soon.
Applauds Reps. Kiley and Raskin, and Sens. Wyden and Lee, for Leadership in Introducing Important Bill
The PRESS Act – Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying Act – was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate this morning.
This legislation would limit the ability of prosecutors to expose the sources and notes of journalists in federal court. While 49 U.S. states have such press “shield laws,” the federal government has no such protections. This has led to federal intrusions into the records of the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as advocacy journalists on the left and right.
The PRESS Act had previously passed the House with unanimous, bipartisan support in September 2022. Today, it was introduced by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
“Support for the PRESS Act sweeps across ideological divisions in both houses of Congress because it is widely recognized that the basic liberties of all are at stake,” said Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Senior Policy Advisor of Protect The 1st. “At a time when voters and constituents in both parties are concerned about the potential for federal power to be abused and misused, passing the PRESS Act into law this year should be a point of pride for any incumbent.”
Rick Boucher, former Virginia congressman, member of the House Judiciary Committee, and now Senior Policy Advisor of Protect The 1st, also stressed the need to pass this legislation in 2023. He was also the lead sponsor of a forerunner bill, the federal press shield legislation that passed the House in 2007 and 2009.
“Journalists have been held in contempt and jailed for refusing to reveal their confidential news sources,” Boucher said. “When big scandals, corruptions, and misdeeds that harm the public interest come to light, it is usually because some brave soul on the inside was willing to speak to a reporter.
“Let’s protect that whistleblower,” Boucher said. “And let’s protect that journalist as well. By doing so, we protect all our rights.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reports that the overwhelming majority of police arrests of journalists occur while they are reporting on ongoing protests. When journalists are arrested, they often lose access to their phones and their computers. The potential for police review of the content stored on their cameras makes journalists particularly vulnerable targets.
For this reason, reporters have begun writing what are known as “legal support numbers” – names and phone numbers of their attorneys -- on their inner arms or bodies. After all, one’s contact lists aren’t much use if one’s phone is confiscated or destroyed.
However, criminal prosecutors are now starting to argue that writing contact information on your body prior to attending a protest is evidence of criminal intent. This is because not only journalists are writing legal support numbers, but so too are protestors and activists. The argument is that, if a person is writing numbers on their body which would only be useful if they is jailed, then that person reasonably expects they will get into an altercation with the police. The outcome would be to effectively criminalize legal support numbers.
Freedom of the Press Foundation argues that if prosecutors succeed in criminalizing legal support numbers for protesters, it’s just a matter of time before the same arguments are made against journalists. For that reason, more than 40 organizations are seeking to challenge prosecution arguments against legal support numbers on the basis that criminalizing them would violate the First Amendment as well as the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel.
The National Lawyers Guild, leading this coalition, states that “[p]eople write these numbers on their arms in preparation for demonstrations precisely because they know they may be unjustly detained, and because they know that police use mass arrest as a form of crowd control that is calculated to disrupt protected speech.”
Protect The 1st is alarmed to see prosecutors targeting Americans for taking steps to ensure their access to legal counsel in the event they are arrested.
When the charges brought against arrested protestors can include domestic terrorism, access to counsel is vital. It also has the added benefit of being a constitutional right. Journalists fulfill a vital role in our democracy, and assuming guilt simply for writing a phone number will only serve to chill speech and undermine our First Amendment rights.
PT1st looks forward to further developments in this story, and in these cases.
Happy World Press Freedom Day! If you are a journalist heading out to do an interview, please be careful in your movements, your digital security, and the protection of your sources. In some countries, you might want to check under your car before starting the ignition.
But be advised that even these safety measures may not be enough to protect you.
Like many declarations of the United Nations, the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day is observed in the breach in many UN member countries. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the number of journalists killed in 2022 was 50 percent higher than the previous year. UNESCO reports that in all, 86 journalists were killed last year.
That’s a reporter killed every four days.
In Mexico, where many journalists have been murdered, the government and the cartels are the most prolific users of Pegasus, surveillance software that can transform any smartphone into a comprehensive 24/7 surveillance device. This spyware reveals one’s texts, emails, images, and calendar, while turning a smartphone’s microphone and camera against its owner. The New York Times reports that Mexico’s federal spy agency has “targeted more cellphones with the spyware than any other government agency in the world.”
And, of course, criminal actors have full use of this technology in much of the world. Cartels used Pegasus to track down journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto hours after he accused the state police force and local politicians of conspiring with violent criminals. He was gunned down while waiting for his car to come out of a carwash. Twenty-six Mexican journalists were targets of interest by a buyer of this technology in recent years.
This is in keeping with Secretary Guterres’ statement that “90 percent of the journalists killed” are “covering local issues, human rights violation, corruption, illegal mining, environment problems.” He added that many of the killers “are not only state actors, they are organized crime, drug lords, environmental criminals.”
In some parts of the world, the line between state actors and thuggery is nonexistent. Witness the ordeal of Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, arrested on specious charges of being an American spy by the judicial puppets of the Vladimir Putin regime. Or Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong publisher who bravely defied the Chinese Communist Party and has disappeared behind bars.
In other parts of the world, journalists are intimidated by online attacks and loose libel laws that keep journalists legally and psychologically intimidated.
Throughout, the marriage of increasingly potent surveillance technology and illiberal regimes is making the practice of journalism more difficult. This is true even in the United States. A Texas journalist was arrested for – get this – “misuse of official information.” A Wall Street Journal reporter in Arizona was arrested for doing man-on-the-street interviews.
The press can often come at the truth with a slant or a sensational angle. The press can just get a story wrong. But the free and open practice of journalism is in the long run the only way for a free society to self-correct and sift out the truth. As the founders insisted, freedom of the press safeguards society against official corruption, malfeasance, and the lawless exercise of power.
While 49 U.S. states have press shield laws, there is no federal law that protects the notes and sources of a journalist from being seized by a federal prosecutor. All the more reason to celebrate World Press Freedom in America by asking Congress to get behind the PRESS Act, which would extend these basic protections to the federal government.
Prosecutors in Asheville, North Carolina, are insisting on pressing forward with the prosecution of two journalists for daring to document a police sweep of a homeless encampment.
Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit were arrested and charged for trespassing on Christmas night, 2021. Their crime? They stood on a rise above the scene in a city park after the park’s 10 p.m. closing time. By the admission of all, the journalists could not have seen the eviction, must less filmed it, from a public sidewalk or lower down in the park. They were where they needed to be to document this story.
On April 19, Bliss and Coit were finally convicted of trespassing in a bench trial. They are now exercising their rights to appeal their case before a jury. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which maintains data on press freedom violations, reveals that this is only the fourth such trial in the United States in the last five years. The Tracker has no record of a journalist being sentenced to jail or probation for trespassing since it began documenting the arrests of journalists in 2017.
Concerned about the chilling effect such prosecutions have on a free press, Protect The 1st joined with a coalition of civil liberties organizations, in a letter organized by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, to protest these prosecutions to the Asheville city attorney, the police chief, and the Buncombe County district attorney. The letter states that “a government interested in transparency should not want to set a precedent that journalists cannot cover newsworthy events, in plain sight and on public land, at night.
“The news does not keep regular business hours and citizens are entitled to know what police are doing at any hour.”
The actions of local officials and statements by police, caught on body-cam footage, show no love lost for The Asheville Blade. It is easy to see why. The Blade advertises itself as “a leftist local news co-op focusing on hard-hitting journalism, in-depth investigation and sharp views from our city.” The Blade’s critical eye may make it the bête noir of city and law enforcement officials. But having a point of view doesn’t make this news outlet any less of a journalistic enterprise than the National Review or The Nation.
“The continued prosecution of the two Asheville Blade reporters sends a message that authorities can cherry-pick who qualifies as a journalist based on personal preference,” the letter concludes.
Protect The 1st will follow the case and report on the outcome of the appeal.
Last year, Sens. Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had tracked millions of wire money transfers by Americans. Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from WIRED, we’ve learned of a legal tool used by another part of DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to extract data from elementary schools, news organizations, and abortion clinics.
Called 1509 customs summonses, these requests are authorized by law to be used in criminal investigations about illegal imports or unpaid customs duties.
WIRED examined ICE’s subpoena tracking database and found agents issued more than 170,00 customs summonses from the beginning of 2016 through August 2022. Congress granted this power to ICE to allow it to efficiently follow up on customs issues without having to wait for a warrant from a judge.
Among the targets of ICE customs summonses are a youth soccer league, surveillance video from a major abortion provider in Illinois, student records from an elementary school in Georgia, health records from a state university’s student health service, data from three boards of elections or election departments, and data from a Lutheran organization that aids refugees.
WIRED reports: “In at least two instances, agents at ICE used the custom summons to pressure news organizations to reveal information about their sources.” In 2017, ICE had also illegally used a custom summons to try to force Twitter to reveal the owner of an anonymous account.
ICE spokesmen told WIRED that there were reasonable explanations for these requests, including investigations into the spread of child sex abuse material. But many civil liberties observers are skeptical of any claim made by federal agencies. ACLU’s Nathan Freed Wessler said that without access to the underlying subpoenas, there is no way to tell if ICE had abused its authority.
This is a clear case where Congressional oversight is mandatory. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees must investigate the rationales for these customs summonses – especially those that were aimed at news organizations. And they should take the next step by passing the PRESS Act to protect journalists from being compelled by federal prosecutors to reveal their sources.
Last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation into whether the Phoenix Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.”
As if to say, “I resemble that remark,” a Phoenix police officer was recently revealed by local TV news as having handcuffed a Wall Street Journal reporter doing man-on-the-street interviews with customers in front of a bank. “No journalist should ever be detained simply for exercising their First Amendment rights,” The Journal reacted to this event in a public statement.
The reporter, Dion Rabouin, was approached by bank executives but was not asked to leave the premises. When confronted by a Phoenix Police officer, Rabouin offered to leave – which was appropriate, given that he was on private property. But Rabouin was handcuffed nevertheless. No less important, a bystander who recorded the incident on a video phone was ordered to stop by the police officer.
“You wanna get arrested as well?” the police officer asked.
There are several important takeaways from this incident. First, the officer had no authority to tell the bystander to quit filming.
Last summer, we reported on Arizona’s space-squeezer law on citizens’ right to record the police. The law was an Arizona statute that allowed police to charge citizens who record them within eight feet, or who don’t stop recording when told to do so by an officer, with a misdemeanor. News organizations protested that this prohibition would easily dragoon protestors and news photographers on the move in an active protest.
But later in the year, a federal judge blocked the law, and the Arizona legislature declined to defend it. The arrest of the reporter that was recorded by the bystander demonstrates the need to respect citizens’ right to record.
Second, this incident is Exhibit A in a pattern identified by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that there is an “alarming number of incidents we’ve seen over the last several years where police have detained, arrested, or assaulted journalists who were doing their jobs.” Witness the treatment of local Laredo, Texas, news blogger Priscilla Villarreal (aka “La Gordiloca”), who was arrested and humiliated in a police station for “misuse of official information.” Villarreal did beat the rap in court, but she did not beat the ride, enduring jeers and insults as she went through the booking process.
The Freedom of the Press Association recently reported that two North Carolina reporters who were filming an eviction of people from a homeless encampment were arrested after police instructed the crowd to disperse. Police seized one of the reporters’ phone, even though she identified herself as a reporter.
“Regardless of the outcome, the fact that these charges were even filed, let alone brought to trial, is an affront to press freedoms, and everyone involved should be ashamed,” wrote Seth Stern of the Freedom of the Press Association. “The First Amendment requires the government to let reporters gather news firsthand – not rely on self-serving spin from official sources. Courts tolerate restrictions on reporters’ access to public land only in exceptional circumstances, like serious public safety risks, and then restrictions must be narrow enough to avoid unduly interfering with newsgathering.”
In the DOJ’s Arizona investigation, the department says it is interested in investigating the Phoenix PD for violating “conduct protected by the First Amendment.” The Phoenix New Times – a long-time critic and bête noir of the local police – reports that DOJ may be interested in exploring overly aggressive use of rubber bullets and tear-gas against protestors, as well as the alleged targeting of activists for arrest and smearing them as gang members.
These concerns should lead Congress to renew and pass the PRESS Act, which would bar prosecutors, except in exigent circumstances, from requiring the revelation of the notes and sources of journalists in court – as 49 states already do. While this law curbs the actions of prosecutors, not police, and does so in court, not on the streets, the impulse of authorities to suppress the press is the same. So is the need to protect one of the most sacred guarantees of the First Amendment: freedom of the press.
The freedom of the press is a First Amendment right that protects the ability of every American to know what our government is doing in our name. Reporters expose much of what the powerful in government and in corporations would rather keep quiet, and in doing so, journalists face a variety of threats in the performance of their jobs: harassment, assault, improper legal action, and even death threats.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation has been monitoring and logging these dangers for several years now. They provide hard data on their U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database of incidents involving journalists in the United States. It is an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to preserve, protect, and enhance civil liberties by protecting a free and unencumbered press.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker tracks the arrests of journalists, the seizure of their equipment, assaults, and interrogations at the U.S. border. It also tracks legal actions, such as subpoenas and prior restraint orders. The database extends back to 2017, grouping its data by well-defined categories. Altogether, the database offers a comprehensive understanding of the threats to press freedom at a glance.
For example, one can see the explosion in assault incidents that coincided with the protests and riots of the summer of 2020. The tracker data are complemented by up-to-date reporting on these incidents.
Among the events it tracks and reports on are legal actions that threaten to intimidate reporting. In October, for example, Ohio’s Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers was charged with felony wiretapping for publishing a recording of witness testimony from an ongoing trial in Ohio.
After judicial back-and-forth on whether to bar recordings of testimony in a murder trial, someone did just that. Myers was out of the country when he was provided a secret recording of the testimony taken by someone in the courtroom. Myers later published condensed portions of that recording.
Judge Anthony Moraleja responded by issuing a search warrant for the Guardian equipment. A laptop was seized, along with Myers’ cellphone. Myers was then charged with interception of wire, electronic, or oral communications. Myers’ attorneys pointed to the Supreme Court case Bartnicki v. Vopper, which ruled that the media cannot be held liable for publishing information that was obtained illegally by a source.
All this information was logged and reported by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, just one example of the rich resources civil liberties advocates can find here.
Protect The 1st today joined with almost 40 other civil liberties and news organizations, led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to include the PRESS Act in any year-end omnibus spending bill.
The PRESS Act, which passed the House in September, would provide a federal shield law protecting journalists from surveillance or compelled disclosure of source materials, except in emergency situations.
Other signers include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, PEN America, and the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability.
Read the whole letter here.
Last week, we applauded Attorney General Merrick Garland for formalizing a rule in the Department of Justice that restricts the ability of federal investigators and prosecutors to get their hands on the notes of journalists.
We applaud the Attorney General’s action because the freedom of journalists to protect confidential sources has proven time and again a way to hold the government accountable for wrongdoing or malfeasance. As we took a long look at the published rule over the weekend, however, one aspect of it popped out at us. The DOJ rule protects “members of the news media” without giving that term any definition.
Does the new DOJ rule protect local citizen journalists like Priscilla Villarreal, aka “Lagordiloca,” who was arrested by Laredo police and slapped with the Orwellian charge of “misuse of official information”? Does the rule protect the political and speech rights of activist groups, from BLM to Project Veritas, who post news? Or does it only protect salaried employees of large media organizations?
We reiterate that the announcement of this rule, while heartening, is not enough. As we noted, it can be changed at any time. The fuzziness about DOJ’s thinking on who is and who is not a journalist is more reason for the Senate to pass the PRESS Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from compelling journalists, and phone and internet companies, to disclose journalists’ notes, except in limited circumstances such as preventing terrorism or imminent violence.
The PRESS Act, which passed the House by voice vote on Sept. 19, defines covered journalist as “a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, investigates, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.”
This bill follows a successful approach enshrined in the law in most states. With little debate and no time required, the U.S. Senate should show that we all agree on the need for a free and unfettered press.
Attorney General Merrick Garland this week formalized a policy he announced early in his tenure that restricts the use of legal tools by federal prosecutors to force journalists to divulge their notes and sources.
This new rule precludes “the use of compulsory legal process, including subpoenas, search warrants, and certain court orders for the purpose of obtaining information from or records of members of the news media.”
Such protections are sorely needed. We’ve seen federal intrusion into the records of the AP, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and even morning raids to confiscate the phones of activist journalists. Over the years, journalists have been held in contempt and jailed for refusing to reveal their confidential news sources. Most U.S. states have “press shield” laws that protect journalists’ sources and notes, with reasonable exceptions. But the federal government has no such law.
It is heartening to see the Attorney General make this directive a formal rule. We should remember, however, that Department of Justice rules can change with the next Attorney General and the next administration — or even if the current Attorney General changes his mind.
We value the ability of journalists to shield confidential sources because so many times revelations from whistleblowers have revealed wrongdoing or dysfunction that the American people need to know about. Recognition of a shield law as essential to freedom of the press explains why Reps. Jerry Nadler and Jim Jordan, Chair and Ranking respectively of the House Judiciary Committee, led a bipartisan group to vocally support the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). The PRESS Act passed the House with unanimous support in September.
Attorney General Garland deserves our gratitude for pushing this issue forward and underscoring its importance. All that’s left is for the Senate to seal the deal and join the House in sending the PRESS Act to the president’s desk for signature.
Spotlight Now on SenatE
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act with unanimous, bipartisan support today.
This bill, long supported by Protect The 1st and civil liberties sister organizations, would protect journalists and their sources by granting a privilege to protect confidential news sources in federal legal proceedings. Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), PT1st Senior Policy Advisor and the original author of an earlier version of this bill, said:
“Kudos to Rep. Jamie Raskin for shepherding this bill through the House in such a busy season. The PRESS Act passed unanimously today because courts continue to hold journalists in contempt and even jail them for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. The House today made a bold statement that this is not acceptable. I am heartened to see such a strong, bipartisan stand for a free and unintimidated press.”
PT1st general counsel Gene Schaerr, said:
“Today’s approval reflects the common sense behind this bill. Passage of this bill with unanimous, bipartisan support is a reaffirmation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of protection for a free press. If such a law works well for the vast majority of states, there is no excuse for the federal government to be so far behind the times.”
Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and now as PT1st Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“When a bill passes so easily after being praised by two of my former colleagues, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Ranking Member Jim Jordan, that tells you something about the need for this bill to become law.
“The question now is will the U.S. Senate respond to the enthusiastic, bipartisan support displayed by the House? This bill has been sponsored in the past by now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Enacting this bill into law would be a positive message that every senator can take home.”