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Senate Judiciary Committee puts reporters shield law on hold

[JURIST] A proposed federal shield law for journalists is on hold after the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Friday postponed further consideration of the bill in the wake of strong opposition [JURIST report] from Justice Department officials voiced in a hearing Thursday. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty [official profile] argued that the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006 [S 2831 summary] would impose an onerous burden on federal prosecutors seeking to compel journalists to reveal their sources. The draft bill states, in part, that a federal prosecutor may not compel the disclosure of "information identifying a source who provided information under a promise or agreement of confidentiality made by the journalist while acting in a professional newsgathering capacity" unless it falls under an exception. McNulty argued in particular that the bill's exception for national security interests required courts to balance those against the public's right to know, a test that courts are ill-equipped to apply. The national security exception, as currently drafted, reads in part:

A journalist...has no privilege against disclosure of any records, communication data, documents...sought by an attorney for the United States...if a court has...determined by clear and convincing evidence, that...disclosure of information identifying the source is necessary to prevent an act of terrorism or to prevent significant and actual harm to the national security, and the value of the information that would be disclosed clearly outweighs the harm to the public interest and the free flow of information that would be caused by compelling the disclosure...
The law is unlikely to be taken up again by the Judiciary Committee until after the fall elections. The measure was introduced [press release] by Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Arlen Specter and several colleagues 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 operative Valerie Plame's identity [JURIST news archive]. The Washington Post has more.

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