ACLU Asks Senate to Take Stronger Stand on Freedom of the Press

November 2, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – In a letter to Senate leadership, the American Civil Liberties Union called for a vote on the House version of the federal reporters’ shield law. The House passed H.R. 2102, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, by a veto-proof majority of 398 to 21.

“Freedom of the press means exactly that – freedom,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Reporters’ access to confidential sources leads to the kind of groundbreaking stories that shape our history. Thanks to confidential sources, we learned about unlawful government programs including warrantless wiretapping, torture, illegal detention, and the violation of millions of Americans’ privacy. Congress must make sure that the crucial relationship between journalists and their sources is safeguarded.”

H.R. 2102, provides more meaningful protection for the free flow of information to the public than the Senate companion bill, S. 2035. First, H.R. 2102 applies a balancing test between the party’s need for the information against the public’s interest in preserving source confidentiality in all cases. Second, H.R. 2102 empowers federal judges to determine application of all the exceptions to the shield law. Third, to invoke the national security exception, H.R. 2102 requires the government to show that information sought from a subpoena is necessary to prevent an act of terrorism or other national security threat. These protections are missing from the Senate bill.

The ACLU noted that reporters are increasingly being subpoenaed to identify their sources, particularly in federal matters, where no statutory reporters’ privilege exists. Currently, forty-nine states and the District of Columbia recognize some form of reporters’ privilege, either through statute or common-law. The absence of a federal reporters’ shield law has undercut state shield laws. A federal shield law is needed to make certain that the protections afforded to journalists are concrete and consistent.

“The legislation isn’t about protecting reporters – it’s about protecting the public’s right to know,” said James Thomas Tucker, ACLU First Amendment Policy Counsel. “When reporters and their sources live in fear of prosecution, we all feel the consequences. The Senate should bring H.R. 2102 to the floor and pass it without delay.”

To read the ACLU’s letter on reporters’ shield, please go to:

To read the ACLU’s report on the need for a federal shield law, go to:

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