New Rules in Place To Limit Access to Journalists’ Records

After a slew of highly reported cases in which the first amendment rights of journalists have been overlooked, new measures have been put in place to limit the government’s access to reporters’ records.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signed the new guidelines that uphold the rights of journalists under freedom of the press, with new rules that limit the access of law enforcement officials to journalists’ records, as reported by The New York Times earlier this week.

Holder has been under scrutiny since last spring due to the Justice Department’s aggressive tactics for taking reporters phone records without advance notice.  His new measures would limit law enforcements access to such records.

In the past year alone there have been a handful of cases in which the first amendment rights of journalists have been challenged under the Obama administration.  Jana Winter, a reporter for Fox News was arrested last year due to her reporting of the movie shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Winter was prosecuted in an attempt to get her to reveal her sources, but in December, New York State’s top court ruled that she is protected under her state’s shield law that protects her from having to testify and reveal her confidential sources.

And in May of last year, federal investigators seized months worth of phone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press.  The A.P. released a statement at the time that said the secret seizure of phone records was a “serious interference with A.P.’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The A.P. was notified after the records for more than 20 employees were taken without notice sometime throughout the past year.

After the uproar from the A.P. seizure and the attempted prosecution of Winter, President Obama directed Holder to review the guidelines for investigations into leaks to reporters.

The rules are expected to be published next week in the Federal Register, and detail changes that Holder announced last July and described in a six-page report.  A preamble illustrates the intentions of the rules, stating that they are being put in place which “strikes the proper balance among several vital interests,” with national security being among those interests, and “safeguarding the essential role of the free press in fostering government accountability and an open society,” according to The Times.

The rules will cover grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations, but they exempt wiretap and search warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “national security letters,” a sort of subpoena that allows the seizure of records related to terrorism and counterespionage, according to The Times.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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