January 27, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) and a bipartisan group of Senators announced their support for an updated medial shield bill that would codify into law and expand upon the recently-announced Department of Justice media guidelines. In addition to supporting the original legislation that offers legal protections to journalists engaged in newsgathering activities, the senators said that they would seek to prevent future administrations from rolling back the DOJ guidelines incorporating some of them in the legislation.
"I supported similar bills in the House in 2007 and 2009, and I think this bipartisan bill is an improvement on that legislation. I'm proud to be part of this effort, and I will continue my commitment to protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights,” Senator Blunt said.
Blunt was joined by Senators Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Jon Tester (Mont.)
The senators noted that while the DOJ guidelines are a good start, future administrations could simply undo the new guidelines if they so choose. The senators today said they would push to codify into law those portions of the guidelines that go beyond the original media shield legislation, by amending the legislation as it moves through committee and onto the floor. Specifically, the senators will push to limit the number of times that the DOJ can ask a court to extend, by 45 day increments, its obligation to notify a member of the press that the Department of Justice has sought that person’s records. The new legislation will ensure that only one extension can be granted, thus requiring the DOJ to notify outlets within 90 days.
Additionally, the DOJ has proposed having its own guidelines explicitly apply not just to records that are sought from third-party communication providers, but from other holders of business records (such as credit card companies) as well. The Judiciary Committee will markup the legislation in July, and the senators intend to clarify that the bill applies in those circumstances as well.
The bill sets up a legal process for approving the subpoenas that would guarantee consideration of the public’s interest in protecting the freedom of the press. Prosecutors would have to convince a judge that the information at issue would “prevent or mitigate an act of terrorism or harm to national security.”
A summary of the original bill appears below.
Summary of Free Flow of Information Act of 2013