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[liberationtech] From RT News: Court rules journalists can’t keep their sources secret

Catherine Roy ecrire at
Sun Jul 21 10:14:39 PDT 2013

*Court rules journalists can’t keep their sources secret*

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that New York Times journalist 
James Risen must testify in the trial of a former Central Intelligence 
Agency officer accused of leaking classified national defense 
information to the media.

  A lower court ruled previously that Risen could protect the source 
responsible for sharing intelligence about a CIA operation discussed in 
his writing, but the US Court of Appeals from the Fourth Circuit 
reversed that decision Friday morning with a 2-1 vote.

  “The reporter must appear and give testimony just as every other 
citizen must. We are not at liberty to conclude otherwise,” Chief Judge 
William Traxler Jr. wrote for the majority opinion.

  The appeal panel’s decision came just days after United States 
Attorney General Eric Holder presented President Barack Obama with a 
proposal that would re-shape current law as it applies to journalists in 
order to more greatly ensure that reporters aren’t targeted during 
investigations unless other routes that exhausted first. That maneuver 
came on the heels of two highly public recent Justice Department 
scandals in which the White House was revealed to have subpoenaed the 
phones records for several Associated Press offices and also the email 
history of Fox News reporter James Rosen.

  "Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our 
focus must be on those who break the law," Obama said during a May 23 
address after those scandals first surfaced.

  With Friday’s ruling, the appeals court weighed whether or not an 
established precedent would prevent Risen from being asked to disclose 
the source of his information, but Traxler said, “so long as the 
subpoena is issued in good faith and is based on a legitimate need of 
law enforcement, the government need not make any special showing to 
obtain evidence of criminal conduct from a reporter in a criminal 

  Next Risen will be expected to testify in the Espionage Act-case 
against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official accused of disclosing 
details about a Clinton administration plan to put faulty nuclear weapon 
blueprints to Iran in an effort to slow down their race to acquiring a 
nuke. He previously said he’d refuse to speak of his source, however, 
which would now open up the possibility of being held in contempt of court.

  Sterling is one of seven persons accused by President Barack Obama of 
spying under the Espionage Act, a World War One-era legislation that has 
previously been used only three times before this administration began 
targeting leakers.

  Judge Roger Gregory, the only justice to vote in the minority, said 
compelling Risen to testify was a “sad” decision that posed a serious 
threat to investigative journalism, the Times reported.

  “Under the majority’s articulation of the reporter’s privilege, or 
lack thereof, absent a showing of bad faith by the government, a 
reporter can always be compelled against her will to reveal her 
confidential sources in a criminal trial,” Gregory wrote. “The majority 
exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of 
the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free 
flow of information in our society.”

  Judge Traxler disagreed, however, and along with Judge Roger Gregory 
wrote that even the US Constitution can’t keep Risen from being asked to 
take the witness stand.

  “There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or 
qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by 
the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal 
conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, 
absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate 
motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his 
source,” Traxler wrote.

  Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee 
for Freedom of the Press, told the Times he viewed the verdict as 
“disappointing,” and even suggested it was a step-backwards only so few 
days after Holder’s alleged effort to ensure the privacy of sources and 


Catherine Roy

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