News

December 15, 2009 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Federal Shield Law passes Senate judiciary committee


Reporters Without Borders commends the Senate judiciary committee for successfully pushing forward the new Federal Shield Law Bill. In a 14-5 decision, members of the committee voted to send the bill to the full Senate, all the while defeating several amendments that would have diluted the extent of its reach.

“This is a fairly good news for the journalism world in the United States", Reporters Without Borders said. “ Although this law is not perfect, it is still a step forward. The recognition of a federal right for information producers to protect their sources is crucial and we hope the legislation can be passed without further delays."

Debate surrounding some of the bill’s provisions, such as the definition of a journalist or the type of information that would be excluded from its protection had delayed developments for several months.

The bill’s current definition extends its protection to bloggers, freelancers and any other person involved in disseminating information to the public. Email and telephone records relating to the gathering of news and information would also be protected by the bill. However, the governement will still be able to demand reporters’ sources in matters relating to national security.

The so-called “Federal Shield Law", namely The Free Flow of Information Act, is a bipartisan bill. It passed in the lower house by 398 votes to 21 on Oct. 16, 2007 after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Aug. 1st, 2007. A different version was adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct, 4, 2008.

Currently, 49 states, plus the District of Columbia, provide some measure of legal protection to reporters who decline, even under the threat of being held in contempt of court, to disclose the identity of confidential sources. However, no federally recognized protection exists. This Act seeks to change that by establishing a qualified privilege for reporters to withhold confidential source information obtained or created under a promise of confidentiality.

“After years of debate and countless cases of reporters being held in contempt, fined and even jailed for honoring their professional commitment not to publicly reveal their sources, the time has come to enact a balanced federal shield law," stated committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt) to the Associated Press.

In a letter co-signed earlier in November, Attorney General Anthony Holder and NSA director Denis Blair called on legislators to pass the bill without further amendments, an important show of support from the Obama administration and the American intelligence community.

(Image : US Geological Survey)