New York, August 4, 2017–Relaxing U.S. government guidelines to make it easier for investigators to subpoena journalists and their records would have a chilling effect on press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news conference today that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is pursuing three times the number of leak investigations as did the previous administration, and that the Department of Justice “is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.”
“Independent journalism in the public interest depends on reporters’ being able to communicate privately with sources,” said Alex Ellerbeck, senior Americas and U.S. researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Rolling back the limited protections on communication between journalists and their sources would lessen the public’s ability to hold their elected leaders to account and weaken hard-won standards of source protection around the world.”
In 2015, former Attorney General Eric Holder put in place guidelines that make it harder for the Department of Justice to subpoena journalists’ records.
Twelve government employees or contractors have been are prosecuted under the Espionage Act–a 100-year-old law initially designed to catch foreign spies–for leaking information to the news media. Eight of those prosecutions happened under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. CPJ is aware of one prosecution of a journalistic source under the Trump administration.