Bill Close Loophole in California Shield Law

  • 06/26/2013
  • Reporters Desk

SACRAMENTO – California reporters and their news organizations would have five days notice of any subpoenas of their records, such as phone calls, or other invasions of their news gathering communications under a Sen. Ted W. Lieu measure that, June 25, passed its first policy review on a bipartisan vote.

The wiretaps of Associated Press phone records included calls from several East Coast bureaus and more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington D.C.  The records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period.

Lieu said his measure would specifically apply to so-called ‘third-party vendors’. In the case of AP, this would have required the Justice Department to notify AP at least five days ahead of time that the communications firm handling AP phone records would be subpoenaed.

In addition to phone companies, other third-party vendors would include Internet service providers, hotels and car-rental agencies.

Specifically, Senate Bill 558 would require government agencies to give five days’ notice to a journalist before issuing a subpoena to any third-party vendor.

California already has a shield law that requires law enforcement to give five days advance notice to news organizations for subpoenas served on the actual news company or reporter.

“But the U.S. Department of Justice just gave a roadmap on ways to bypass the shield law by going after firms like telephone or communications companies that have personal and work related information of journalists,” Lieu said.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association is the sponsor of SB 558.

“California journalists, and the public, should be extremely troubled by recent reports showing the federal government secretly collected the phone records of the Associated Press,” Lieu, D-Torrance, said about SB 558. “It’s essential for a free citizenry to have a free, unhindered press.”

SB 558 will next be reviewed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which could consider the bill as soon as next week.

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