A bipartisan group of senators led by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are attempting to write into law vows made by the Justice Department after the AP phone records scandal.
The media shield legislation originally offered, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, “protects journalists and their employers from having to reveal information, including source identity, that a reporter obtains under a promise of confidentiality and in the course of carrying out newsgathering functions,” with exceptions for classified leak cases or when the information would prevent or mitigate terrorism, death, kidnapping, and bodily harm. There’s also an exception for journalists who obtain their information “through observation or perpetration of a criminal act” other than leaking.
The new language to codify into law and expand the DOJ’s new media guidelines will be added in the amendment process.
“A free press remains essential to our democracy,” said Graham. “The media shield law tries to bring balance between those who report the news all the while protecting our national security. I believe the legislation, which will continue to be improved as the process moves forward, will ultimately strike the appropriate balance of protecting journalists and protecting our national security.”
The amendment will limit to just once the number of times the Justice Department can ask the a court for an extension on the amount of time it can take to notify a journalist that his or her records have been sought. Under the legislation, the DOJ would have a maximum of 90 days before it has to tell news outlets they’re being snooped on.
“The DOJ guidelines were a promising start, but this bill ensures that they can’t be changed on a whim, and goes beyond the guidelines to ensure that we balance our national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information,” said Schumer. “These changes make the bill stronger and should provide added momentum to get it passed.”
Prosecutors would bear the burden of convincing a judge that the information at issue would “prevent or mitigate an act of terrorism or harm to national security.”
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) signed on to the Schumer-Graham effort.
“I supported similar bills in the House in 2007 and 2009, and I think this bipartisan bill is an improvement on that legislation. I’m proud to be part of this effort, and I will continue my commitment to protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights,” said Blunt.