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Secret Service must allow journalists covering inauguration to carry personal protective equipment

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  1. Newsgathering

Update (Jan. 20, 2021): In an email response Tuesday night, the chief counsel of the U.S. Secret Service said the agency would notify reporters covering the inauguration “that body armor (to include ballistic vests and helmets) and gas masks are not allowed within the event’s magnetometer-screened secure areas.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times and The Washington Post sent a letter to the U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday urging the agency to allow credentialed journalists covering the 2021 inauguration to carry personal protective equipment. The letter was sent in response to numerous reports from journalists that protest PPE, like helmets and gas masks, were not being allowed past certain checkpoints in Washington, D.C.

The organizations highlighted the need for journalists to carry personal protective items in the wake of the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The letter notes that a photojournalist who covered the recent riots wore a bulletproof vest that protected her from injury when she was stabbed by a member of the mob.

The organizations argue that journalists reporting on the inauguration should at least be able to carry such life-saving gear outside of the most secured area where the inauguration takes place.

“By refusing to permit journalists to carry such protective equipment with them into controlled areas,” the letter states, “law enforcement effectively prevents journalists from access to their equipment when moving through checkpoints and controlled areas, thus leaving them more vulnerable outside of the security perimeter, where violence is more likely to occur.”

Even if the Secret Service refuses to allow journalists to carry PPE, the organizations strongly urge the agency to clarify exactly what types of protective gear is prohibited, so journalists can proceed accordingly. The letter also requests that journalists be allowed to carry backpacks larger than 18” x 13” x 7”. The current prohibition prevents members of the media, who often must carry all their equipment while reporting, from doing their jobs.

The Reporters Committee’s free Legal Hotline is available for journalists covering the inauguration and related protests in Washington, D.C., and states across the country.