May 19, 2021
A pair of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Biden administration to revamp Justice Department guidelines to stop surveillance of journalists as a way to identify their sources.
The call came in a letter sent by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to Attorney General Merrick Garland in which they urged the administration to seize the "opportunity to voluntarily leave behind the thuggish and Orwellian abuses of power of the last administration, and stand up as a world leader for press freedoms."
\u201cVery important: Sen. Wyden and Rep. Raskin call for the Biden DOJ to categorically bar the surveillance of journalists for the purpose of going after their sources. https://t.co/qDLNaPlMNY\u201d— Freedom of the Press (@Freedom of the Press) 1621434910
The letter points to revelations by the Washington Post earlier this month that former President Donald Trump's Justice department, in early 2017, secretly seized phone records and tried to get email records of three Post reporters covering Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Biden's Justice Department defended the seizure and attempted seizure, the Post reported, with department spokesperson Marc Raimondi asserting the targets of the investigations were not the journalists "but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required."
Wyden and Raskin noted that "in years past, the government would often attempt to force journalists to reveal their sources by dragging them into court."
"Now that most Americans carry always-on, always-recording smartphones, the government prefers to go to telecommunications companies, hoping that records of calls and texts might reveal the source," they wrote.
"While certainly more convenient for the government," they continued, "using subpoenas and surveillance orders to pry into a journalist's communications history is no less invasive and destructive than forcing a journalist to reveal their source."
"Simply put, the government should not collect journalists communications records unless it's investigating them for a crime or as part of an investigation into foreign espionage in which case it should get a warrant," wrote Wyden and Raskin.
The Democrats also wrote that they plan on introducing legislation in the coming months to shield journalists from being forced to reveal their sources.
A press statement from the lawmakers acknowledged that previous administrations have also sought to spy on reporters to identify sources and said, "It is past time that the United States end this invasive practice that threatens freedom of the press."
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