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SPJ cautiously supports DOJ’s latest regulations about acquiring news organizations’ records



David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, ekobe@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is encouraged by the Department of Justice’s new rules for obtaining information from media organizations. The new regulations operate under the assumption that prosecutors will notify the news media before obtaining any communication records.

“It’s imperative we have safeguards to prevent the government from secretly spying on journalists, as it did in obtaining Associated Press phone records last year,” said David Cuillier, SPJ president. “We cannot tolerate that kind of behavior in a democracy.”

In the past few years, the Department of Justice has had little oversight as to how it handles journalists’ records. This past May, the federal executive went under fire after seizing phone records from the Associated Press without notifying the organization.

“These rules help address the concern we’ve had,” Cuillier said. “We are encouraged by Attorney General Eric Holder’s behavior and words of late.”

However, the rules are not perfect. There are instances in which the DOJ deems it legitimate to disregard informing news organizations about record seizures, such as when a notice would threaten national security. For this reason, SPJ remains cautious about DOJ’s intentions to bend the new regulations.

“We’ve noticed over time that the government is quick to invoke “national security” justifications willy-nilly, and judges tend to defer to the administration,” Cuillier said. “This policy could be easily abused under the auspices of protecting the nation from terrorists. We’ve seen it before, and we hope we won’t see it in the future. If so, more controls will be necessary to protect journalists — and citizens — from intrusive government spying.”

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit http://www.spj.org/.

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