U.S. Magistrate Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky held that neither the New York Times nor Amnesty International would be forced to identify confidential sources who provided information for a report about tape recorded conversations between attorneys and inmates in a federal prison in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The issue arises in a suit brought by several lawyers who claim that administrators at a Brooklyn federal lockup illegally eavesdropped on conversations with their clients. Attorneys for the administrators of the jail sought the identity of the sources to show that the plaintiffs knew about the surveillance three years prior to filing their suit, rendering it in violation of the statute of limitations.
In applying the reporters’ privilege to a non-profit organization, Pohorelsky may be signaling a willingness in the federal judiciary to focus on the function rather than the form of those seeking the privilege. Indeed, in conducting its reports, Amnesty International performs many of the same duties traditionally associated with journalism, notably collecting information and research and disseminating it to the masses.
The decision may not be quite as far reaching as Amnesty International hopes. Pohorelsky was never forced to adjudge the non-profit as deserving of the privilege. Rather, in this case, lawyers for both sides agreed that the privilege ought to apply, ultimately leaving the question as to whether Amnesty International qualifies for the privilege unsettled.