U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) released new legislation to protect reporters and journalists against unnecessary government surveillance that can chill First Amendment activities.

Wyden proposed these new legal restrictions on government surveillance of reporters following recent revelations about the Trump administration’s abusive, politicized surveillance of reporters at CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“The Trump Administration spied on reporters it suspected of no crimes in its hunt to identify their sources and prevent the American people from learning the truth about Trump’s lawlessness and corruption. President Biden and Attorney General Garland have pledged to end these surveillance abuses, but the new policies can be reversed by future administrations. There need to be clear rules protecting reporters from government surveillance written into black-letter law. My legislation creates strong protections for reporters, with common sense exceptions for cases when the government truly needs information immediately.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The Protect Reporters from Excessive State Suppression (PRESS) Act ensures reporters cannot be compelled by the government to disclose their confidential sources or research files, and also protects their data held by third parties like phone and internet companies from being secretly seized by the government without the opportunity to challenge those demands in court. The bill shields journalists’ communications records, such as those that DOJ obtained about reporters at CNN, the Washington Post, and New York Times from the government, with narrow exceptions for terrorism and threat of imminent violence or harm.

While 48 states and the District of Columbia have some form of shield law or reporter’s privilege, protections vary significantly, and there is no federal shield law, and the state laws do not apply to investigations by federal agencies, such as DOJ. Importantly, there are currently no legal restrictions that prevent the government from secretly obtaining a reporters’ records directly from phone companies, email providers and other third parties in order to identify their sources.

SOURCE: Sen. Ron Wyden