Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect journalists from government surveillance
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Monday aimed at protecting journalists from government surveillance, weeks after it was revealed that the Department of Justice under the Trump administration had sought the personal phone and email records of reporters from multiple major news organizations.
“The Trump Administration spied on reporters it suspected of no crimes in its hunt to identify their sources and prevent the American people from learning the truth about Trump’s lawlessness and corruption,” Wyden said in a statement. “President Biden and Attorney General Garland have pledged to end these surveillance abuses, but the new policies can be reversed by future administrations.”
Reporters from CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times were all targeted by probes by the Trump administration. Jeff Sessions and William Barr, who both served as attorney general under former President Trump, have denied having knowledge of these probes.
The bill, titled the Protect Reporters from Excessive State Suppression Act, would define the term “covered journalist” as someone who “gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns news events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.”
Under this legislation, the federal government would be prohibited from compelling electronic storage service providers to provide documents or information regarding a “covered journalist” or their personal devices. It would also require the federal government to provide reporters the opportunity to respond to demands for records.
These standards would apply to emails, telephones and third-party providers that could reveal who a journalist’s source is.
The legislation has been endorsed by multiple journalist organizations including the News Media Alliance, Radio Television Digital News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Broadcasters and News Leaders Association.
Leaders from the news media industry met with Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this month in light of these revelations. During the meeting, the Justice Department told the leaders “that reporters were never the subject or the target of the recent investigations.” The agency reportedly promised not to use “compulsory processes” to obtain information from reporters.
Apart from journalists, it was reported in June that the Trump Justice Department had also seized the data of Democratic lawmakers including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). The agency as well as the Senate and House judiciary committees have all subsequently launched investigations into the Trump administration’s data probes.