With the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act just a few weeks away, RTDNA is urging the U.S. District Court in Northern California to prevent the FBI and Department of Justice from sidestepping their own rules on the seizure of reporters' records.
RTDNA, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other journalism and media groups have filed a friend of the court brief in a case brought by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which opposes a DOJ motion that would allow investigators to demand the emails and phone records of journalists without advance warning and without a chance to challenge such a seizure in court.
The FBI and the DOJ have policies in place regarding how they can or cannot obtain phone and email records through the use of subpoenas, search warrants and other typical means, which have been recently updated to address the concerns of journalists. In most cases, the government must give a journalist and their news organization advanced notice, and follow established guidelines which are available to the public. However, the FBI has increased its use of so-called national security letters to obtain reporters' records. The key difference is that national security letters can be used to immediately confiscate records, and the journalist would have no recourse. And unlike the existing rules for the use of subpoenas and search warrants, the department's rules governing how national security letters can be used are also being kept secret.
"RTDNA opposes the government hiding behind opaque rules that allow it to breach the confidentiality of journalists and their sources," said RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender. "Targeting journalists for investigative purposes creates a chilling effect on newsgathering and can damage the ability of the press to report on matters of public concern."
RTDNA and its partners are calling on the court to decline the department's motion to continue the use of national security letters to obtain journalists' records. You can read the full brief here.