Washington, D.C., July 19, 2021 — In response to news reports today that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued new rules limiting federal prosecutors’ ability to obtain journalists’ phone and email records in government leak investigations, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“This is a welcome first step in lessening the chilling effect on investigative journalism at a time when the public is growing increasingly dependent on revelations by whistleblowers to learn what the government is doing in their name,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “The new rules to limit Washington’s ability to infringe on journalists’ confidential relationships with sources should serve as an example in the U.S. and abroad.”
The new rules bar federal prosecutors from seizing journalists’ records in leak investigations, but make exceptions for situations with imminent risks, such as kidnappings, or if authorities suspect a journalist worked with a terrorist organization or agents of a foreign power, those reports said.
The Justice Department under former President Donald Trump used secret subpoenas to obtain reporters’ records in an effort to identify the sources of leaks, as CPJ has documented. In a recent white paper to the Biden administration, CPJ called on the president to back guidelines that protect confidential sources, and to refrain from using the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists or whistleblowers.