Why the Justice Department Should Leave Journalist Data Alone

A federal investigation secretly collected records from a New York Times journalist, leading to an arrest this week.

As the Times reports, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James A. Wolfe was just charged with lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters. Wolfe told investigators that he didn’t give up classified information that the Bureau claims he did.

No matter Wolfe’s verdict, the Justice Department should have left journalists out of the investigation. DOJ officials seized phone and encrypted email records dating back years from four journalists, including Ali Watkins who also works for the Times.

This is the Trump administration’s first known attack on reporters’ data. But the government has been targeting journalists for far too long.

Most, but not all states, have shield laws that prevent journalists from having to testify against and reveal their sources in court. And free speech advocates have been trying to pass a federal shield law for decades, to no avail.

Former President Barack Obama laid the groundwork for the federal government chasing journalists’ records even more aggressively.

In 2016 James Risen of The New York Times noted:

Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.

In order to hear the truth from a source, journalists need trust. And when the federal government takes advantages that trust, that’s bad for everyone.

Journalists have gone to jail to protect sources. They’ve refused to turn over notes in court and cited state shield laws to keep their phone and email records off the record.

Freedom of the press is that important. The First Amendment needs to be protected.

“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told the newspaper.

Take Action!

Urge the Department of Homeland Security to stop monitoring journalists by signing this Care2 petition.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.

 

Photo Credit: Miquel C./Flickr

50 comments

Gino C
Gino C8 days ago

thank you

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Lisa M
Lisa M11 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M11 days ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo C11 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Cathy B
Cathy B11 days ago

Thank you.

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Lisa M
Lisa M11 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M11 days ago

Noted.

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Rachel -
Past Member 12 days ago

All of us want a free press, but, one, too much corporate media has become straight up propaganda. There's nothing that can be done about that that wouldn't be worse for us serfs -- the solution there is a healthy skepticism. Okay so moving on... the internet is awesome, but it's causing problems. Imagine this: you look at pro-Democratic Party material for awhile on Facebook or Youtube or wherever. Meanwhile I do the same thing, but material with a pro-Trump bias. So now what we've each done is trigger algorithms where content directed at us mirrors what we originally sought out. You can try to break free of this by actively seeking out alternate viewpoints, but, based on comments on social media, I don't think most people do this very often if only because of time constraints. So this is where a small divide within centrists becomes a huge gulf over time. The resulting infighting does not help us serfs, it helps the power-tripping federal government. Take heed pls.

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Rachel -
Past Member 12 days ago

I agreed with Bill Maher when he said Obama was probably the worst president on the issue of press freedom. And this from a former constitutional law professor, folks. However if Trump takes advantage of the precedents that were set, that's on him in my view.

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Joan E
Joan E12 days ago

Good point, Brian. I don't know whether Obama had a good reason to bait and switch us on the health plan or if he was making a bad compromise for bad reasons, but it was better than what we had before. Trump is of course taking everything good away. I, too, will continue supporting Bernie Sanders and single payer to make America great again.

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