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California state lawmaker proposes new journalist protections

May 24, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance.
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Alarmed by the recent federal seizure of Associated Press phone records, a California lawmaker has proposed new protections for the records of reporters and editors in this state.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said Thursday he will introduce legislation that would protect journalists from government wiretaps and other actions requiring a subpoena.

Lieu’s SB 558 would require government agencies to give five days’ notice to a journalist before issuing a subpoena to any third-party vendor such as a phone company or Internet service provider. 

 “All Californians should be extremely troubled by recent reports showing the U.S. Department of Justice secretly collected two months of Associated Press phone records,” Lieu said in a statement. “A free press is necessary for a free people. Actions that chill freedom of the press hurt the foundational core of our democracy.”

The records for 20 phone lines for AP employees in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., were seized by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of an investigation into the leak of classified information about how the CIA foiled an Al Qaeda plot to bomb an airliner.

Media experts say the seizure of reporters' phone records could have a chilling effect on news gathering, making anonymous sources reluctant to share information important to the public if they fear exposure through records seizures.

The bill was proposed to Lieu by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn.

“This bill will ensure that reporters will be able to continue to deliver to readers solid investigative stories about government activities without fear that officials can tiptoe around the reporters’ shield law to access their sources and notes from the cloud or cellphone providers,” said Jim Ewert, general counsel of the association.


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