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Senators modify media shield bill to include Attorney General's changes to Justice policy

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced an amendment to the federal shield bill in an effort to cement…

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced an amendment to the federal shield bill in an effort to cement Attorney General Eric Holder’s recommended changes regarding the Justice Department’s guidelines when issuing subpoenas to journalists.

Specifically, the senators behind the latest version of the shield bill, known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, want to codify into law some of Holder’s recommendations, which strengthens protections for journalists and includes direct oversight by the Attorney General himself when investigations of leakers involve journalists’ constitutionally protected work materials. The senators expressed concern that future administrations could easily undo the proposed Justice Department guidelines.

Holder’s report, released last Friday, also called on legislators to push for a federal shield bill, stating that while the Justice Department can change some of its policies regarding the news media, it “cannot adopt certain measures without legislative action.” The 7-page report is now in the hands of President Obama, and the policies are expected to eventually become federal regulations governing the department.

The fight for a federal shield bill was renewed in May when The Associated Press announced that the Justice Department collected records for 20 phone lines used by editors and reporters, most of whom were involved in a report about a CIA-thwarted terrorist plot in Yemen that contradicted previous statements by the Obama Administration denying such an attempt. Investigators did not notify the wire service about the subpoena and only notified the AP’s attorneys after the records were collected.

Soon after, a Justice Department affidavit came to light in another case that said that there was "probable cause" to consider Fox News reporter James Rosen a “co-conspirator” with State Department employee Stephen Kim, who is accused of leaking secrets to Rosen. That designation allowed the department to be free from the limits on search warrants to the news media found in the Privacy Protection Act, and allowed them to search his Gmail account.

In agreement with Holder’s recommendations, the senators also want to legislation in place to expand the Justice Department guidelines regarding the subpoena of phone records to be applicable to business records as well, such as email and credit card transactions.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· NM&L: Number of states with shield law climbs to 40

· Dig.J.Leg.Gd.: The limits of promising confidentiality

· Amending the Department of Justice subpoena guidelines