October 10, 2017

Wyden Questions Justice Department About Spying on Journalists, Urges Reforms

Questions Follow Trump Administration’s Vow to Crack Down on Leaks; Wyden Urges DOJ to Require Warrants to Obtain Reporter Phone and Email Records

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today asked the Department of Justice how often it spies on journalists as part of leak investigations, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vow to crack down on leaks to reporters.

“Journalists play a critical role in our democracy and the chill associated with the government obtaining their communications records in order to identify their sources cannot be overstated,” Wyden wrote in a letter to Sessions today.

Wyden urged Sessions to require search warrants to obtain reporters’ phone and email records to guard against unnecessary spying on journalists.

Read the full letter here.

Wyden asked Sessions to answer the following questions by November 10:

  1. For each of the past five years, how many times has DOJ used subpoenas, search warrants, national security letters, or any other form of legal process authorized by a court to target members of the news media in the United States and American journalists abroad to seek their (a) communications records, (b) geo-location information, or (c) the content of their communications? Please provide statistics for each form of legal process.
  2. Has DOJ revised the 2015 regulations, or made any other changes to internal procedures governing investigations of journalists since January 20, 2017? If yes, please provide me with a copy.

Background: In 2015, DOJ revised its guidelines for investigations of members of the media, following several incidents in which DOJ abused its surveillance authority by targeting the press to identify their sources. For example, in 2013, DOJ obtained telephone call records for 20 Associated Press phone lines, including the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters.

The 2015 revised regulations include a requirement that the Attorney General personally approve all subpoenas and applications for court orders and warrants served to or about members of the news media. This includes including legal demands for telephone and internet records, which could reveal a journalist’s sources. The 2015 revisions, while an improvement, still do not go far enough to guard against unnecessary interference in legitimate newsgathering.