Government oversight board asked to investigate whether surveillance compromises newsgathering

Press Release | September 2, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 news organizations have asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to investigate whether journalists’ confidential sources and other newsgathering is being compromised by widespread national security surveillance programs.

“National security surveillance programs must not be used to circumvent important substantive and procedural protections belonging to journalists and their sources,” the letter stated. “And in order not to chill and deter legal information sharing, enough information must be public that journalists as well as their sources are assured of their abilities to communicate confidentially even in the face of ongoing surveillance programs.”

Specifically, the media letter asks PCLOB to investigate “the extent to which journalists are being included within the scope of any national security surveillance programs” implemented after President Reagan’s executive order authorizing the National Security Agency to collect data, and “the impact of those programs upon newsgathering and reporter-source relationships both in the United State and abroad.” This includes analyzing whether journalists’ travels and communications are “targeted, collected and monitored in a systematized manner in connection with surveillance programs.”

The media coalition also would like information about any policies or procedures that protect journalists and newsgathering, and they ask PCLOB to include similar issues in discussions of other surveillance programs, such as those under the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act. They also suggest that PCLOB should look at how Justice Department media subpoena policies impact those of other agencies when it comes to obtaining records of the news media.

“The public interest demands an empirical assessment of whether national security programs are drawing specifically upon reporter-source communications,” the letter stated. “As part of this project, we would urge PCLOB to consider the important constitutional rights associated with newsgathering and confidential reporter-source relationships in the context of national security surveillance programs.

The letter was submitted to PCLOB in response to a request from the board for future agenda items for it to pursue.

“No government body has yet studied the impact of these programs upon vital press freedoms. In order for the press to remain free and autonomous, sufficient details about these programs must be disclosed to the public so that journalists and sources are better informed about the collection and use of their communications.”

Joining the Reporters Committee on the letter were: American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, Bloomberg L.P., Committee to Protect Journalists, Courthouse News Service, Dow Jones & Company Inc., First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Hearst Corporation, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, The McClatchy Company, Media Consortium, National Newspaper Association, The National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times Company, Newspaper Association of America, The Newspaper Guild-CWA, Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Tully Center for Free Speech, and The Washington Post.

About the Reporters Committee

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Brief: Comments to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board