Attorney General Says He'll Support Legislation That Bans The DOJ From Targeting Reporters During Leak Investigations

from the sounds-great-but-let's-get-that-on-paper dept

The first half of this year has been periodically interrupted with news of the DOJ’s attempts to obtain journalists’ phone and email records. The Trump Administration targeted journalists at CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post while trying to sniff out the sources of White House leaks.

This wasn’t necessarily uncommon behavior for the DOJ. Prior to Trump’s arrival in office (along with his open disdain for journalists), the Obama Administration set records for leak investigations and whistleblower prosecutions. Obama’s DOJ targeted journalists hundreds of times while Eric Holder was Attorney General.

Following this run of negative press, President Joe Biden stepped up to swear the DOJ would never target journalists again. A few days later, the DOJ decided it should align itself with its boss and also said it would end the practice of seeking journalists’ records during leak investigations. An investigation was opened by the DOJ’s Inspector General to see how often this was done and whether or not it violated rights/DOJ policies.

This is all well and good but all it takes is a regime change — something that can happen as often as every four years — to roll these pledges back and let the DOJ get back to using journalists’ communications records to track down their sources. To make it permanent, you need codification.

So, Congress had better get on it, because this promise by the new Attorney General expires when he leaves office.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has endorsed the idea of legislation to create an enduring ban on federal prosecutors subpoenaing reporters or their phone or email records in federal investigations, but he stopped short of announcing an official endorsement on behalf of the Biden administration.

[…]

“You are right in suggesting that the only way to make it permanently durable is through legislation, and I personally will support working with Congress to develop legislation that would make protections for obtaining the press’ records part of the legislation,” the attorney general said in response to a journalist’s question on the topic.

A lot of journalist shield legislation has come and gone without becoming enshrined into law. It will be no less difficult to get this on the president’s desk this time around, as there seems to be some leftover animosity towards the press residing in a number of Congressional reps and Senators.

The DOJ is revamping its internal policies to better fit the public statements made by Merrick Garland. But those too are subject to rewriting if future DOJ officials would rather punish leakers than respect rights. Still, this is more than we’ve seen from any other DOJ boss in terms of protecting journalists from the DOJ. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, did back legislation creating more protections for journalists, but that failed bill did not explicitly forbid the DOJ from seeking journalists’ records.

This is heartening news, even if it’s a bit dampened by the reality of passing legislation in DC. Without bipartisan support, it will likely go nowhere. It will be up to the DOJ to enforce its own ban, if that’s the direction it decides to go. Trusting the DOJ to not break its own rules has rarely worked in the past. If the DOJ decides later it’s more efficient to go after journalists when hunting leakers, it will. And it will find a way to justify its actions, with the easiest route being to quietly scrap internal guidelines preventing it from doing what it wants.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Attorney General Says He'll Support Legislation That Bans The DOJ From Targeting Reporters During Leak Investigations”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
5 Comments

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it