DOJ Issues New Rules to Prevent Shakedown of Journalists

The Department of Justice released new guidelines on Friday designed to prevent investigations like the ones into the Associated Press and Fox reporter James Rosen.

The six-page document (PDF courtesy of the the New York Times) released late Friday is, according to an introduction, the result of a request by President Obama that the DOJ review its policies regarding journalists. The goal is ensuring "the Department strikes the appropriate balance" between openness and security.

The report does not mention Fox reporter James Rosen or the Associated Press by name, but the content does seem directly responsive to concerns raised by two separate investigations revealed in May. The Associated Press revealed that 20 of their phones had been tapped and that they were not notified by the DOJ about the investigation.

The same month, it was revealed the DOJ had issued a warrant for emails belonging to Fox journalist James Rosen over a story he had written involving classified information about North Korea. The warrant in that case labeled Rosen a co-conspirator to the individual who allegedly leaked information to him. Once again, the DOJ did not inform Rosen about the investigation before or after seeking access to his emails.

The very first section of the DOJ report says the "most significant policy change" being instituted is designed to "ensure notice in all but the most extreme cases." The next section deals with search warrants and says the DOJ will henceforth only issue warrants labeling journalists as suspects when "the member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities."

Most of the rest of the document deals with procedural changes to the handling of investigations involving journalists both between agencies and within the DOJ. For instance, section six involves the handling of information obtained during an investigation and is meant to ensure "access to records will be limited to Department personnel who are working on the investigation."

Attorney General Eric Holder presented the new guidelines to President Obama at the White House on Friday. In response to the new guidelines, the AP released a statement:

The Associated Press is gratified that the Department of Justice took our concerns seriously. The description of the new guidelines released today indicates they will result in meaningful, additional protection for journalists. We’ll obviously be reviewing them more closely when the actual language of the guidelines is released, but we are heartened by this step.


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