Today, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) proposed a new bill, called the Protect Reporters from Excessive State Suppression (PRESS) Act, that would protect journalists’ data records from being seized by the government. This comes several months after the Justice Department admitted that it acquired phone and email records from reporters at The Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times in order to identify sources.
Wyden said in a statement that there needed to be rules “protecting reporters from government surveillance” and that it should be “written into black-letter law.” He said: “The Trump administration spied on reporters it suspected of no crimes in its hunt to identify their sources and prevent the American people from learning the truth about Trump’s lawlessness and corruption.”
Even though Biden’s DOJ had initially defended the use of subpoenas, the president soon said it was wrong, putting a stop to the practice. Attorney General Merrick Garland had also requested new rules be put in place around cases involving reporters. He also met with executives from the aforementioned three news organizations to discuss the situation.
While most states have some form of shield law for reporters, the federal government does not. One of the problems with prior attempts at this legislation had to do with how a journalist is defined plus what kind of activities should be protected. A federal law, for example, would have to figure out how to safeguard journalist’s privacy while also protecting national security interests.
Wyden’s bill proposes that journalists be shielded from court-ordered disclosures of sources, but allows for exceptions if the information would prevent terrorism, identify terrorists, or if it would prevent violence or death.