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Police chief defends subpoena of reporter's records

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Dec. 14, 2007  ·   The police chief who subpoenaed the cell phone records of a St. Paul, Minn., television…

Dec. 14, 2007  ·   The police chief who subpoenaed the cell phone records of a St. Paul, Minn., television reporter to find out how he had obtained an arrest report that police had refused to give him now says he regrets causing concern among the news media and admitted that the report was a public record, but stopped well short of apologizing for obtaining the records, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said the investigation is now closed, and no charges will be brought over the release. Police officials received the phone records before the reporter even knew they had been subpoenaed.

KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden said he got the arrest report from a county official who knew it was supposed to be a public record. Police also obtained the phone records of a county sheriff’s office employee who they suspected of releasing the document, although the news accounts did not identify the person or say whether that person was the source. KMSP reported that the county sheriff said police officers used false information to obtain the subpoena for his employee’s records.

The Star Tribune reported that the chief pledged to pursue a “less intrusive method” in obtaining such records in the future by notifying the news organization first, unless the reporter is accused of a major crime.

The seven-year-old arrest report concerned a woman who was sitting in a man’s car as he shot a police officer last June. The shooting is still under investigation, but the earlier incident is unrelated.

Harrington told the station that the investigation involving the phone records was conducted out of concern for “data privacy,” although he did not explain what privacy interests were involved in release of a public record. He wouldn’t tell the station who authorized the subpoena or what time period the records covered.

Lyden said in a report aired on his station that his concern is about what police are doing with all the records they now possess.

“In obtaining my phone records they basically opened up my reporter’s notebook,” Lyden said in the KMSP report. “They can match up every source that I have had. It is awful.”

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