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US lawmakers urge media shield law

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the US House of Representative advocated Wednesday for a law that would shield the press from giving information to a federal entity unless certain conditions are met. The push for legislation [Politico report] comes in response to an incident in which the US Department of Justice (DOJ) obtained journalists' records. In a press conference, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) called the DOJ's search [The Hill report] for the source of leaked information in April and May 2012 "a massive intimidation fishing expedition." The new legislation would prevent the DOJ from taking such actions unless it was in the interest of preventing potential harm to national security or an act of terrorism. Similar to the Free Flow of Information Act [text], the bill would give journalists some protections from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, allowing journalists to refuse divulging sources unless a court compels them to.

The Obama administration has renewed its efforts to push for the reintroduction of media shield legislation after a recent scandal in which federal investigators secretly used a subpoena [AP report] this year to obtain phone records of AP journalists without advance notice. The records were believed to have been in connection with a foiled bombing plot involving the Yemen branch of al Qaeda in the spring of 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he recused himself [WP report] from investigations into the leak probe. AP called the search "massive and unprecedented" in a letter [text] to Holder. More than 50 news organizations joined in protest against the DOJ, issuing a second letter [text, PDF] to Holder the following day. The US Attorney's office in Washington responded to criticism [text, PDF], stating that investigators seek phone records from news outlets as a last resort after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." AP and other news organizations are demanding that the DOJ destroy the phone records.

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