Justice Department Formally Restricts Compulsion of Journalist Records

Merrick Garland has been tapped as Attorney General under the Biden Administration
Attorney General Merrick Garland

The Justice Department said Monday (July 19) that it has formally changed its policy to restrict the use of “compulsory processes” — such as subpoenas — to get information or records from members of the press on activities in the course of doing their jobs and in the “scope” of newsgathering.

The policy, effective immediately, was announced in a memo to department staff leadership by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Garland has asked a deputy attorney general to look into codifying the policy into department regulations to ensure the “durability” of the change, and added that he supports legislation that would protect the news media.

The Justice Department had already announced that it would not be issuing subpoenas for reporters' records in leak investigations.

The changes in policy followed a report in The New York Times that not only was the Biden White House continuing the pursuit of records from Times reporters, a holdover from a Trump-era investigation, but that it had issued a gag order preventing the publisher’s executives from talking about the matter, even to its own staff.

CNN also reported that the Trump administration had obtained phone records and email messages from the network’s correspondents as part of leak investigations.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.