Editors’ Note: In a December 9 email to CPJ following the publication of this article and BuzzFeed News’ refusal to comply with the subpoena, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said, “ICE will not enforce the summons and will pursue the investigation through other channels.”
Washington, D.C., December 8, 2020 – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should withdraw a subpoena seeking to expose the source of reporting by BuzzFeed News, and should refrain from taking legal action against news outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 4, BuzzFeed News published an article disclosing that the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility had filed a subpoena on December 1, which demanded that the news outlet provide source information used in its reporting on immigration programs. According to the same article, the subpoena ordered BuzzFeed News to turnover such documentation to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in Virginia by December 22, and requested the outlet not to disclose the existence of the subpoena.
“It is disgraceful for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to try to compel a news organization to turn over unpublished material about their sources. The agency should immediately drop this subpoena,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Subpoenaing a news organization to turn over its source material sets a dangerous legal precedent and undermines sources’ trust in the media.”
The subpoena demands “all documentation including, but not limited to: (1) date of receipt, (2) method of receipt, (3) source of document, and (4) contact information for the source of the document” relating to BuzzFeed News’ immigration reporting, according to the outlet.
CPJ emailed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for comment, but did not receive any reply. In an email to CPJ, BuzzFeed News referred CPJ to a statement from editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs, who said that the outlet “rejects any requests for information about possible sources and methods of [its] reporting.”