In the wake of revelations that the Trump Justice Department secretly surveilled Democratic lawmakers and reporters from prominent news outlets in an effort to hunt down leakers, press freedom advocates are calling on Congress to impose strong limits on the vast spying powers that have been so readily abused by both Democratic and Republican administrations in recent years.\r\n\r\n\u0022Mark my words: if Congress does not pass tough and binding rules that permanently tie the DOJ\u0026#039;s hands, it will happen again—whether it\u0026#039;s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House.\u0022\r\n—Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation\r\n\r\nTrevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian on Tuesday that \u0022administrations in both parties have spied on journalists with increasing abandon for almost two decades, in contravention of internal DOJ regulations and against the spirit of the First Amendment.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022Many people already forget that before Trump was known as enemy number one of press freedom, Barack Obama\u0026#039;s Justice Department did more damage to reporters\u0026#039; rights than any administration since Nixon,\u0022 Timm continued. \u0022For real safeguards, Congress needs to act.\u0022\r\n\r\nLast week, the New York Times reported that the Trump Justice Department obtained from Apple the metadata of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)—the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee—and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), two lawmakers closely involved in the House\u0026#039;s Trump-Russia probe.\r\n\r\nThe Justice Department began pursuing Schiff and Swalwell\u0026#039;s data in 2017 and 2018 under the leadership of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. William Barr, Sessions\u0026#039; successor, revived the data-collection push after he was confirmed in 2019.\r\n\r\nNews of the Trump administration\u0026#039;s targeting of Schiff and Swalwell—who, in an irony that did not go unnoticed, are well-known defenders of Justice Department surveillance powers—came after reporting revealed that the former president\u0026#039;s DOJ obtained the phone and email logs of journalists at the Times, the Washington Post, and CNN in an attempt to identify their confidential sources.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAs the Times reported earlier this month, the Biden administration \u0022continued waging\u0022 its predecessor\u0026#039;s legal fight to obtain four Times journalists\u0026#039; email logs as part of the leak investigation.\r\n\r\nIn the face of public backlash, Attorney General Merrick Garland last week asked for an inspector general probe into the Trump-era leak-hunting and vowed that the DOJ will no longer \u0022seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.\u0022 But it\u0026#039;s far from clear that Garland\u0026#039;s promise will stick.\r\n\r\nOn Monday, Garland held an off-the-record, closed-door meeting with media executives to discuss the surveillance scandal, but there was no indication that the attorney general committed to substantive change.\r\n\r\n\u0022One issue is whether Mr. Garland will replace a Justice Department regulation that permits seizures of reporters\u0026#039; information that can reveal their sources in leak investigations under certain conditions—or leave it intact and simply ban that technique for the time being,\u0022 the Times\u0026#039; Charlie Savage wrote over the weekend. \u0022Garland has discussed only issuing \u0026#039;some kind of memorandum, obviously, from me.\u0026#039; If he pursues that route, the Biden administration\u0026#039;s changes may prove fleeting. With or without telling the public, he or a successor could later revoke his memo or make an exception.\u0022\r\n\r\nJameel Jaffer, director of Columbia University\u0026#039;s Knight First Amendment Institute, argued that protections against DOJ surveillance of the press \u0022shouldn\u0026#039;t be a matter of executive grace.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022Congress and the courts have an important role to play here, too,\u0022 said Jaffer.\r\n\r\nIn his Guardian op-ed, Timm warned, \u0022Mark my words: if Congress does not pass tough and binding rules that permanently tie the DOJ\u0026#039;s hands, it will happen again—whether it\u0026#039;s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022If Garland is promising to bar the surveillance of journalists for the purpose of finding their sources, Congress can simply pass a law holding them to it,\u0022 Timm added. \u0022Anything else at this point is just empty rhetoric.\u0022\r\n\r\nTimm went on to note that the Biden DOJ—falling in line with the Trump administration\u0026#039;s position—is \u0022currently attempting to make newsgathering a crime, in the form of its case against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022If Garland bars surveillance of journalists \u0026#039;doing their jobs\u0026#039; but secures a conviction that makes journalists\u0026#039; jobs a crime,\u0022 Timm added, \u0022his promises will ultimately be worse than meaningless.\u0022\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nJustice Department policy states that members of the news media are shielded from \u0022certain law enforcement tools, whether criminal or civil, that might unreasonably impair newsgathering activities.\u0022 Specifically, the policy restricts the DOJ\u0026#039;s use of court orders, subpoenas, and search warrants targeting \u0022non-consenting members of the news media\u0022 to \u0022extraordinary\u0022 circumstances.\r\n\r\nBut as Timm and Anna Diakun of the Knight First Amendment Institute wrote for Columbia Journalism Review last week, the Justice Department\u0026#039;s media guidelines are full of ambiguous language and holes that DOJ officials have eagerly exploited.\r\n\r\n\u0022Despite these rules, the Trump DOJ nevertheless obtained court orders for communications records of eight journalists, delaying notice until after the fact,\u0022 Timm and Diakun noted. \u0022President Biden called this surveillance \u0026#039;simply wrong.\u0026#039; Following his comments, however, the New York Times revealed that Biden\u0026#039;s DOJ had continued to seek its reporters\u0026#039; email records long after the change in administration.\u0022\r\n\r\nA necessary step to protect the press from Justice Department abuses, argued Timm and Diakun, is for Congress to enshrine into law the Garland DOJ\u0026#039;s promise not to use its authority to \u0022obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022Congress needs to write it into law—the DOJ cannot be trusted by themselves,\u0022 Timm tweeted last week.