GOP bill would limit government demands for press info

Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that this information leak was a "very serious leak" that put the American people at risk. But Republicans and Democrats — and dozens of major media companies — said Justice's seizure of records was overly broad and ignored past practices that the government has employed when demanding information from the press.

ADVERTISEMENT
In a floor speech Tuesday, Poe said Justice's decision to take the phone records to protect national security was similar to how the Soviet Union used to do the same in the name of preserving state secrets.

"The state-secret provision was so broad the Soviet press and speech were gagged and shackled," Poe said. "Now we learn that our Department of Justice improperly seized without notice phone records of over 100 Associated Press journalists — all in the name of national security concerns.

"These actions border on the Soviet method of legalizing these freedoms but never allowing them," Poe said of the Justice Department's decision. "So it's time to revisit U.S. law and require in all cases judicial review where these types of records are seized."

Under Poe's bill, the government generally would not be allowed to compel reporters to provide information or documents produced during the act of "engaging in journalism." However, the bill sets out exemptions to this general policy.

For example, reporters could be compelled to provide the information if a court finds that the government has exhausted all other alternative sources of the information, and the information is seen as a critical piece of a criminal investigation.

In cases where the identity of a source of information might be revealed, the government could only compel the sharing of information in cases where that information is needed to stop an act of terrorism or some other specific threat to national security. The need to prevent someone's "imminent death" would be another reason to compel the sharing of information that could reveal someone's identity.

The bill also creates a broad exemption that would allow the government to compel testimony whenever disclosure "outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating news or information."

The legislation also sets up strict rules on the type of information the government can seek. It requires that the information provided cannot be "overbroad," and must be "narrowly tailored in subject matter and period of time covered."

In addition to members of the press, the bill also sets out similar rules for communications service providers. The press covers reporters, supervisors, employers, parent companies and subsidiaries or affiliate companies.