Reporters Committee magazine explains why journalists' sources may not be as confidential as they think

Press Release | November 21, 2012

Journalists who confer with confidential sources via electronic communications may find that law enforcement authorities are privy to those conversations, thanks to outdated laws developed long before the current wave to digital media was invented, according to the cover story in the Fall 2012 issue of The News Media & The Law.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press quarterly magazine reports that not only do many of the court orders authorizing surveillance of electronic communications remain indefinitely under seal, but also that the service providers are placed under gag orders prohibiting them from even disclosing such activity.

“This should make every reporter who talks to a source on a mobile phone or via email think twice about how secure that communication is, particularly if he’s writing about law enforcement investigations or national security issues,” said Gregg P. Leslie, Reporters Committee Legal Defense Director and editor of the magazine. “Even though Twitter and Google and others routinely report on government requests for user information, all they can offer are topline numbers. As long as subpoenas are served on the providers, not the customers, there is little journalists can do — short of a change in the law — to protect their information.”

Other features in the magazine include:

  • A post-game review of the national political conventions — where no journalist was arrested for the first time in 20 years.
  • An overview of developments in rules for news media interviews with prisoners.
  • How the government is handling the loss of the “high 2” Freedom of Information Act exemption (hint: it’s using other exemptions)
  • An analysis of the federal court review of executive privilege in the “Fast and Furious” case
  • How Texas officials are challenging openness requirements.
  • The media argument for access to documents in the Bradley Manning court-martial.
  • The latest judicial rulings about libel protection for online reviews and other opinions.
  • And Q&A featuring the top questions reporters are asking our legal experts.

The Fall 2012 issue of The News Media & The Law is on the Reporters Committee 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:

· The News Media and The Law Archive

· The News Media and The Law, Fall 2012