The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it would no longer seize reporters’ records during leak investigations. A policy shift of a practice that news organizations have condemned for years.
It also comes after a report that federal prosecutors aggressively sought communication data from reporters in an effort to identify their sources, CNN reports.
“Going forward, consistent with the President’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its longstanding practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs,” department director of public affairs Anthony Coley said in a statement.
The commitment from the Justice Department follows a bombshell report by the New York Times that revealed a top lawyer for the paper had disclosed that the department under the Trump administration, and then continued under Biden’s administration, tried to obtain four journalists’ email logs. The disclosure was just the latest report of the department attempting to obtain reporter records.
The Times reporters weren’t the only ones affected. The Justice Department also sought records from CNN, Washington Post, and other outlet’s journalists.
Top executives at the Times were aware of the effort by the Biden administration to obtain reporters’ emails. But, they were placed under a gag order, which prevented them from discussing the matter.
And while steps have been taken to end the practice, no formal policy changes have been enacted. This means that any other administration can resume the practice at any time.
The Justice Department did not name the government leak at the center of its investigation, but according to the outlet, the evidence pointed to a Times report from 2017 regarding former FBI Director James Comey.