Skip to content

Reporters Committee asks U.S. Supreme Court to allow journalists to challenge wiretap law

Post categories

  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court asking the…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices to uphold a lower court’s ruling giving media, legal and other parties standing to challenge amendments to FISA that could irreparably damage reporter-source relationships.

At issue in Clapper et. al. v. Amnesty International USA is whether the plaintiffs can demonstrate enough harm to sue the federal government over amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would allow the government to monitor international communications even if one party is in the United States.

According to the Reporters Committee brief, these amendments would “hamper the formation of these important journalist-source relationships by eliminating journalists’ ability to make good-faith promises of confidentiality to international sources.”

The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs could not prove they were harmed, and thus did not have standing to challenge the amendments. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) reversed that decision, and now the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will consider the case.

“From Watergate to waterboarding, the news media have relied on confidential sources to uncover stories of official wrongdoing,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “If reporters cannot communicate confidentially with news sources, particularly overseas, for fear they will be uncovered by a government wiretap, then the integrity of the relationship is compromised, stories go untold and, ultimately, the public is left uninformed. This is particularly true with international sources, with whom electronic communication is essential.”

The brief includes myriad examples of important national stories that would not have been possible without confidential sources. “The strong interest in ensuring journalists’ ability to credibly promise confidentiality to sources is not one of mere convenience or privacy concerns,” the brief argues. “The ability to foster and maintain confidential relationships with sources is crucial to effective reporting.”

The Reporters Committee brief is on its website.

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· NM&L: Reporters harmed by warrantless wiretapping, entitled to challenge the law