Attorney General Merrick Garland’s move came after the Trump administration’s investigation of members of the news media sparked outcry.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday formally prohibited federal prosecutors from confiscating journalists’ records in leak investigations, with limited exceptions, thus reversing years of departmental policy.
The new policy largely reflects Garland’s commitment Made in June, When he said that the Justice Department would abandon the practice of confiscating journalists’ records while investigating government leaks to the news media.
It aims to solve a politically difficult issue that has long troubled Justice Department prosecutors trying to weigh the media’s First Amendment rights with the government’s desire to protect confidential information.
“Free and independent media are essential to the functioning of our democracy,” the memo said. “The Ministry of Justice will no longer use compulsory legal procedures to obtain information or records of members of the news media who are acting within the scope of news gathering activities.”
But the memorandum clearly stated that in certain circumstances, federal prosecutors can confiscate reporters’ records, including whether the reporter is suspected of working for a foreign power or terrorist organization’s agent. There are exceptions for imminent risk situations, such as kidnapping or crimes against children.
For example, journalists who are the target or object of criminal investigations can still seize their records in matters unrelated to their “news gathering activities,” as can those who use “criminal methods” to obtain information.
However, the policy clearly stipulates that prosecutors cannot subpoena a reporter’s record just because the reporter owns or releases confidential information.
DOJ officially adopted a new policy to restrict the use of compulsory procedures to obtain whistleblower informationhttps://t.co/9Dpyn5rvC0
-Ministry of Justice (@TheJusticeDept) July 19, 2021
During the Trump administration, Garland was forced to take action after the department obtained records of reporters from the Washington Post, CNN, and New York Times as part of an investigation into who disclosed government secrets related to the Russian investigation. Other national security affairs.
Others who obtained the records were members of Congress and their staff and former White House legal counsel Don McGahn.
Before Garland announced the news, President Joe Biden stated that he would not allow the Department of Justice to seize the phone records and e-mails of journalists, calling this practice “wrong.” Since then, Garland and other senior staff of the Ministry of Justice have met with representatives of news media organizations, and both parties agreed that a new departmental policy needs to be formulated. Garland also said that he will support federal legislation to add extra protection for journalists.
This move was immediately praised by media advocates.
Bruce Brown, Executive Director of the Press Freedom Press Committee, said: “The Attorney General has taken necessary and important steps to protect press freedom at a critical moment.” “This historic new policy will ensure that journalists are able to inform the public , Without worrying that the federal government will interfere with their relationship with confidential sources.”
Leak investigations have long plagued department officials, leading to policy changes in the past decade and media groups opposing the government’s infringement of their work.
After the commotion over what was considered action Aggressive To promote freedom of the press, President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder announced revised leak investigation guidelines in 2013.
The Obama administration, where Biden was the vice president, was severely criticized by media groups after obtaining phone records from numerous AP reporters in the exposure investigation.
President Donald Trump’s first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced in 2017 that he would conduct leaks after a series of disclosures during the investigation of Russian election interference.