Skip to main content

Editorial: The Shield

The Justice Department’s invocation of national security notwithstanding, its broad seizure of the telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors is a troubling, overbroad effort and an opportunity to renew our call for a federal shield law.

Such a law would have a carve-out for national security, but it would also buttress protections from overzealous government officials’ subpoenas. The late Sen. Arlen Specter was a tireless advocate for the shield. Rep. John Conyers has taken up that standard. White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week that President Obama supports a federal shield, as does Attorney General Eric Holder. If so, the administration has a curious way of showing it.

According to AP, it was not notified of the phone record grab, and thus not given a chance to argue against it or for a more narrow collection.

“We are seriously concerned about the actions taken by the Department of Justice, which could have a chilling effect on the U.S. media and its ability to report on sensitive issues,” Committee to Protect Journalists program coordinator Carlos Lauría said last week. Lauría is in charge of a program targeting threats to press freedom in the Americas, a threat that includes the administration. “We call on [Holder] to provide a full explanation of the Department of Justice’s decision and comply with the request from the AP to return all telephone records,” Lauría said. So do we.