Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shield or Sword?

Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, is not a big fan of journalist shield laws. As the US Senate prepares to discuss a national shield law, McConnell does his own prepping in a USA Today opinion piece in which he states that he doesn't see a problem with the free flow of information in the absence of a protected privilege for federal reporters. On the other hand, passage of the bill would be detrimental to the public's safety, and the ability of our national security team to protect national security information and to bring justice to those who break the law, i.e. terrorists. He also states:

This legislation upsets that balance by shielding those who illegally leak national security information and increasing the likelihood of destructive revelations in the future. The bill forces the government to meet ill-defined standards that require the disclosure of additional sensitive information. It also cedes critical judgments about harm to national security from national security professionals, charged with protecting the country, to the subjective determination of individual judges.

The Economist blog, Democracy in America, "Shield Me!", and the Wired blog, "The Shield Law: Truth or Fear Mongering", both pick apart McConnell's op-ed in yesterday's USA Today.

The US Senate is expected to vote on the proposed legislation this week; the US House passed a similar bill earlier this session. A group of 41 state attorneys general, including Hawaii Attorney General Mark J. Bennett, signed this letter urging the Senate to pass the bill. They state that with the exception of Wyoming, 49 states and the District of Columbia have adopted journalist shield laws either by legislation or through judicial decision. As we know, Hawaii just passed a shield law this session.

Don't know what California's shield law looks like, and whether it also protects bloggers, but consider this from Wired:

The most recent jailing of a reporter was of a San Francisco blogger who was released from jail last year after serving seven months for refusing to release videotape he took of a San Francisco protest, in which a police officer was injured. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters were held in contempt for refusing to divulge who leaked them grand jury transcripts in the BALCO steroids prosecution, but escaped prison after the authorities last year figured out the leaker was one of the defendant's lawyers.

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