United States Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department will no longer take advantage of the "compulsory legal process" to threaten journalists in their efforts to gather news.
In a memo released on Monday, Garland made the announcement but noted that he did not completely remove the possibility of using the legal process against journalists. He said the legal process could be used only in "limited circumstances" such as subpoenas, warrants, and court orders.
Limitation on Record Acquisition
However, reporters who are under criminal investigation for activities outside of newsgathering will be exempted from the prohibition if they are suspected of insider trading, breaking, and entering to obtain something for a story. Garland noted that the limitation of the authority of the DOJ to the legal process requires approval from the deputy attorney general and that he/she would be consulted beforehand.
In the memo, Garland wrote that the prohibition included times when a news journalist acquired or published government information, including classified information. Additionally, the official said the prohibition did not affect the DOJ's traditional ability to acquire information regarding a journalist who committed illegal acts of disclosing government information, MSN reported.
The prohibition also does not apply when an entity or individual comes in contact with a foreign terrorist group or agent of a foreign power or when the situation poses a threat of "serious bodily harm" or an imminent risk of death. Garland added that he ordered the deputy attorney general to review, develop, and codify the policy and that he will examine what is already on the books.
Garland released the memo after major media outlets had had their records acquired when former President Donald Trump's Justice Department subpoenaed them on stories relating to the Russia investigation. The three affected outlets met and discussed with the attorney general earlier this summer, ABC News reported.
Fear of Persecution
Previously, President Joe Biden called the efforts of obtaining reporters' records "simply, simply wrong." The Democrat's statement came at a time when the DOJ announced it would change its policy. Garland also met with Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In one of the cases, David Vigilante, the legal counsel of CNN, revealed he was aware of the subpoena against reporter Barbara Starr's records. However, he noted that he was placed under a gag order for nearly a year, which prevented him from disclosing the department's efforts to acquire the journalist's records.
Many First Amendment groups and news organizations expressed concern about the Justice Department's continued legal efforts to obtain media records after Biden's inauguration.
Brown also said in a statement that the attorney general has taken the necessary step to uphold the freedom of the press and protect them at a critical time. He added that the announcement would help journalists do their jobs of informing the public without worrying about whether or not the federal government would intrude on their privacy and take advantage of the legal system to obtain their personal records, Deadline reported.