Protect The 1st Applauds Judge Torres’ Decision to Appoint a Special Master to Review Project Veritas Evidence
Journalists and defenders of the First Amendment have reason to applaud the decision of Judge Analisa Torres, who granted a request by Project Veritas that a special master be appointed to review confidential, journalistic materials seized by the FBI in a dawn raid last month.
In an apparent desire to determine who gave O’Keefe access to the stolen diary of President Biden’s daughter, the FBI seized O’Keefe’s cell phone and those of two of his colleagues. Groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the media columnist of The New York Times – not philosophically aligned with the conservative activists in Project Veritas and its leader, James O’Keefe – have questioned the invasive tactics of the Department of Justice and FBI.
The contents of a cell phone, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, reveals the private information of its owner – and compromises any source a journalist has been in contact with. O’Keefe said that “on my phone were many of my reporters’ notes, a lot of my sources unrelated to this story and a lot of confidential donor information to our news organization.”
Protect The 1st applauds Judge Torres’s decision. O’Keefe never published the contents of the diary and says he had reported it to law enforcement. If this violation of O’Keefe’s digital life is allowed to stand, no media organization will be safe from battering rams and digital confiscations.
This is a welcome step, but it is a first step. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who in July enacted policies to restrain federal investigators from seizing reporters’ records, should reinforce his policies with his department. Attorney General Garland wrote:
“The United States has, of course, an important national interest in protecting national security information against unauthorized disclosure. But a balancing test may fail to properly weight the important national interest in protecting journalists from compelled disclosure of information revealing their sources, sources they need to apprise the American people of the workings of their government.”
Clearly, Attorney General Garland needs to make it clear to his subordinates that his memo was not a suggestion.