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RCFP statement on Justice Department policy change barring seizure of source information from reporters in leak hunts

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
The policy change follows revelations that DOJ officials under Presidents Trump and Biden sought to secretly seize reporters’ email records.

Following revelations Friday that the Justice Department under Presidents Trump and Biden had sought to secretly seize the email records of four New York Times reporters in a leak investigation — a legal battle that included an extraordinary gag order on Times lawyers and senior executives — the Justice Department said Saturday it would, going forward, prohibit the seizure of source information from reporters in leak cases.

The White House said it agreed with the move, which will allow reporters to protect their confidential sources in these investigations.

Bruce D. Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, made the following statement:

“We welcome the Justice Department’s commitment to no longer seek source information from reporters in leak investigations. But serious unanswered questions remain about what happened in each of these cases. To ensure it does not happen again, we look forward to pursuing additional policy reforms with the Biden administration to further safeguard these essential rights.”

Since 2013, the Reporters Committee has led a group of media organizations in working with the Justice Department to strengthen and preserve the federal guidelines that protect journalists and news outlets from being forced to disclose their confidential sources or other newsgathering records in the course of leaks probes or other federal investigations.

The events Friday and Saturday follow a series of disclosures by the Biden administration that President Trump’s Justice Department authorized secret phone records seizures from reporters at the Times, the Washington Post and CNN. The department also sought email records from the Post and CNN, and was successful in obtaining those records in CNN’s case.

In its Saturday statement, the Justice Department confirmed that it had reviewed all pending demands for records from journalists in leak investigations, and that all affected reporters had been notified.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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