Subpoena rules better protect journalists’ e-communications


The U.S. Department of Justice released improved rules gov­erning law enforcement de­mands for testimony and news­gathering materials from members of the media.

The improvements resulted from a 10-month negotiation between the department and a coalition of news organizations led by the Newspaper Association of America, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Associated Press.

The new guidelines will govern subpoenas issued by the Department of Justice and all U.S. attorneys across the country and will provide significant protections for reporters nationwide.

In February 2014, follow­ing controversial subpoenas to The Associated Press and Fox News, the Department of Justice released guidelines that were meant to tighten the procedures it used for obtaining information from the media.

The revised guidelines, however, applied only to “ordinary” newsgathering, raising questions about whether police could avoid applying them to certain newsgathering techniques. The revisions also granted an expansive new role to the director of National Intelligence.

In the final rules, the Depart­­ment of Justice corrected these flaws.

The guidelines now apply to all “news­gathering,” and it is now clear that the director of National Intelligence can­not override the attorney general of the United States in determining whether subpoenas should be issued to reporters, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The new guidelines expand protections that traditionally have applied to reporters’ telephone records to com­munications records held by Internet service providers and business records, work product and documentary materials held by third parties in the cloud.