The Obama administration proposed substantial changes to the pending federal shield bill that would weaken its protections against compelling journalists to testify in the interest of national security, The New York Times reported.
The administration told Congress that the federal shield bill being considered in the Senate should include a new, broad exception in cases involving government leaks that would cause “significant” harm to national security and that judicial review of such claims would defer to the executive branch as to the degree of likely harm, the Times reported. Previous versions of the bill allowed judges themselves to determine whether the potential harm of disclosure of the information outweighed national security concerns.
Media advocates noted that previously Obama had co-sponsored a version of a media shield bill as a senator and Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that he generally supported such legislation.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., told the Times that the administration’s proposed changes were unacceptable and would impair meaningful judicial review. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., another sponsor who had already narrowed the legislation’s reach, called the proposed change “an unexpected and significant setback" that would "make it hard to pass this legislation.”
The House of Representatives passed another version of a federal shield bill earlier this year. The Senate’s version has stalled in its Judiciary Committee.