Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Monday announced new limits for prosecutors seeking to secretly obtain reporters’ phone and email records.
The Justice Department “will no longer use compulsory legal process for the purpose of obtaining information from or records of members of the news media acting within the scope of newsgathering activities,” the memo states.
Under the new rules, prosecutors can only seize records if a reporter is the subject or target of an investigation outside their profession as a journalist, or if there is an imminent risk of serious bodily harm or death.
The policy change comes after news outlets and First Amendment proponents criticized the department for allowing prosecutors to obtain reporter records without alerting the news outlet, if they thought doing so would harm the investigation.
In the two-and-a-half-page memo, Mr. Garland said a free press is “vital” to democracy and the U.S. has an “important national interest” in ensuring the protection of national security information against unauthorized disclosure.
“But a balancing test may fail to properly weigh 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,” he said.
The attorney general also asked Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco to further review and codify the changes.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, applauded the policy shift in a statement on Monday.
“Given recent reports about the Department’s surveillance of journalists and Members of Congress, these are not the only policy changes I would like to see at the Department of Justice — but I am genuinely encouraged by this significant step in the right direction,” Mr. Nadler said.
He added that the Judiciary Committee will continue to focus on the Justice Department‘s surveillance practices in the coming months.
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