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Top Bush administration officials speak out against media shield bill

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff joined forces Thursday to speak out against the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 [S 2035 materials] in separate letters [Chertoff letter, PDF; Mukasey and McConnell letter, PDF; Gates letter, PDF] to US senators, arguing that the bill poses a threat to national security [DOJ backgrounder]. The bill would prevent courts from compelling reporters to disclose confidential sources, and generally allow reporters to refuse to testify as to their sources without being subject to contempt of court, but nonetheless contains exceptions for situations where the information sought is needed to prevent a terrorist act or to protect national security. Mukasey and McConnell said the bill's definition of journalists is broad enough to include potential terrorists and criminals, while Chertoff noted that it would include not only regular journalists, but those he said could "claim" to be journalists, such as bloggers, and Internet service providers. Gates added that the bill will make the US more vulnerable by allowing the bill to shield journalists, possibly allowing terrorist organizations to recruit journalists because of their immunity under the bill. AP has more.

The US House of Representatives approved the bill [JURIST report] last fall. The Bush administration and the US Department of Justice have continuously opposed the enactment of a federal reporter shield law [JURIST news archive] citing national security concerns, while proponents, including media outlets, argue the legislation is necessary to protect freedom of the press. The most recent case raising the issue directly in the courts is that of former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [JURIST news archive], currently appealing a contempt of court ruling [JURIST report] imposed on her for refusing to disclose government sources who provided information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, initially identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder].

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