Shield laws were a major subject of conversation in 2013. They exist in 40 states to protect journalists from court orders to reveal confidential sources. The idea is that in order for the press to fulfill its watchdog role, dig up the truth, and expose corruption, it must be seen as autonomous. If journalists are but one subpoena away from spilling the beans, then the press is little more than an arm of the government… and then what source with something to lose is ever going to speak out?
As we learned in 2013, shield laws get confusing when a journalist’s work crosses state lines, and that even when a subpoena is eventually overturned, the professional damage may already be done. (Lauren Kirchner, Columbia Journalism Review)
And what of perhaps the biggest story of the year – the expansive surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency? What if Edward Snowden did not choose to reveal his identity? What if the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman had to protect the source of leaks that threatened national security? Nevermind Snowden’s primary confidant, Glenn Greenwald, the American citizen living in Brazil writing for a British newspaper. British authorities, by the way, exercised prior restraint, destroyed Guardian computers, and detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under anti-terrorism laws. So while we’re not unjustified in our concern for U.S. policy, we can remain thankful for the First Amendment’s prominence in our jurisprudence. (Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian)
RELATED: The NSA surveillance leaks in-brief
Never in U.S. history has a journalist been tried for passing along information that someone else stole. The press actually doesn’t have many rights beyond those of ordinary citizens – but rebuffing subpoenas and publishing stolen information are two pretty nice cards to have in a muckraker’s back pocket. You try keeping that nice stereo your sketchy friend sold you for ten bucks…
But in 2013, the Justice Department pushed back against those rights in an attempt to prevent the leaking of unseemly information to the press. The DOJ’s actions, as luck would have it, were leaked.