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Federal shield law for reporters meets opposition from deputy US AG

[JURIST] US Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty [official profile] argued against the pending Free Flow of Information Act of 2006 [S 2831 summary] during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [witness list] Wednesday, saying that a federal shield law for reporters will hinder national security investigations by encouraging people to leak classified information if reporters are protected from revealing their sources. In his prepared statement [text], McNulty said:

Our nation is engaged in a war on terror, and the Department's highest priority is to prevent another attack. ... To publish the full contours of our prevention efforts would provide our enemy with unacceptable opportunities. Certain information must be kept classified and outside the public domain. ...

The consequences of leaking are extraordinarily grave. Leaks lay bare aspects of our national defense; they provide a window into steps we are taking to secure our country; they risk arming terrorists with precisely the information needed to avoid detection in plotting an attack upon our troops or communities; in short, they expose and damage our nation.
Several senators proposed the bill [press release] in May, partially in response to the controversial 85-day jailing of New York Times journalist Judith Miller [JURIST news archive] after she refused to reveal a source to the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity [JURIST news archive].

The bill would only allow journalists to protect confidential sources in certain instances, and would not apply when the information relates to unauthorized disclosure of classified information, cases of guilt or innocence, and several other circumstances. McNulty testified that the disclosure of classified information exemption provides insufficient protection because it would force the government to prove in court that the disclosure harmed national security. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] rejected McNulty's points and said he plans to move forward with the legislation. AP has more.

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