Archive for the ‘subpoena’ Category

FOI Update: Federal appeals court rules against reporter’s privilege in James Risen case

A federal appeals court ruled July 19 that the First Amendment does not protect reporters from being forced to testify against confidential sources suspected of sharing unauthorized information with them, according to The New York Times.

This decision against the so-called reporter’s privilege came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. The court ruled James Risen, an author and a national security reporter for the Times, must testify against a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with giving him classified information. Risen said he’s willing to go prison to protect his source, according to the Times.

The information was not for an article in the Times. It was for a chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War,” that portrays efforts by the CIA. under the Clinton administration to trick Iranian scientists as “reckless and botched in a way that could have helped the Iranians gain accurate information,” The Times said.

Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr. justified the ruling by writing: “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.”

The 118-page decision comes one week after Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for leak investigations to supposedly tighten the circumstances for obtaining reporter’s records.

“It’s very disappointing that as we are making such good progress with the attorney general’s office and with Congress, in getting them to recognize the importance of a reporter’s privilege, the Fourth Circuit has taken such a big step backwards,” Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Times.

For more information about the case, read The New York Times article.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Ohio newspapers restrictions on open government, AP president says DOJ violated its own rules

Ohio newspapers stand against restrictions on open government, records

The Ohio Newspapers Association (ONA) is standing against more than half a dozen bills pending in the legislature that place more restrictions on the state’s public records and open meetings laws, according to Gongwer News Service.

Two bills ONA is watching closely include House Bill 59, an amendment that allows local governments to discuss economic development deals in secret and Senate Bill 60, legislation that eliminates public access to concealed handgun permit records (see previous post).

Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio monitors the state’s sunshine laws, and she told Gongwer News Service she’s noticed increased efforts to limit access to government information across the board.

Dennis Hetzel, ONA executive director, told Gongwer there are other pending bills that provide hope for open government advocates, including Senate Bill 93 that limits reasons for executive session, House Bill 175 that creates a state government expenditure database and House Bill 189 that increases the transparency of Jobs Ohio.

AP president says DOJ subpoena without warning violated DOJ rules, compromised First Amendment freedoms

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, accused the Justice Department of violating its own rules when it secretly subpoenaed more than 20 AP phone lines in May. He also noted some sources have been reluctant to talk with reporters since the search for  fear that their anonymity will be compromised.

Pruitt addressed a luncheon of journalists and others June 19, telling them the AP was never warned about the search that monitored thousands of phone calls to and from its reporters even though the DOJ rules say the only reason for a delay in notification is if the party searched could compromise the investigation.

Pruitt said there’s little reason to believe this could justify not warning the AP because their phone records were in the hands of the phone company so there’s no way they could have tampered with them. The FBI had also already announced its leak investigation by the time the search began, so the leaker was already tipped off, Pruitt said.

Instead, he explained the only logical reason the DOJ did not notify the AP is to supersede the AP’s ability to contest the search or narrow its scope.

“The DOJ’s actions could not have been more tailor-made to comfort authoritarian regimes that want to suppress their own news media,” Pruitt said.

Beyond the DOJ’s own code of ethics, he said the search compromised the First Amendment freedom of the press and effectively suppressed the free speech of federal leakers. Since the search, he said reporters from several news organizations have told him their sources felt intimidated by the DOJ’s actions.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.


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