First Branch Forecast

Demand Progress Statement on Today’s Reintroduction of the PRESS Act

Today, Rep. Kevin Kiley and Rep. Jamie Raskin in the House and Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Mike Lee, and Sen. Durbin in the Senate reintroduced the Protecting Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, legislation that prohibits overreach by government prosecutors seeking to extract confidential information and sources from reporters and their communications providers.

The reintroduction of this strong journalist shield legislation in both chambers demonstrates a commendable and bipartisan commitment by its sponsors to ensure First Amendment freedoms and accountability journalism can thrive.

“Freedom of the press is built upon the idea that journalists can report the news without fear or favor,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress. “The bipartisan PRESS Act protects journalists from retaliation by the federal government by upholding their ability to refuse to disclose information about their sources in most circumstances.”

The PRESS Act unanimously passed in the House in the 117th Congress and enjoys the strong support of the Senate Judiciary Chair, but because of the objection of one Senator it was not adopted by UC in the Senate and it just missed being included in the end-of-term omnibus package despite broad support from civil society organizations that included Demand Progress. The PRESS Act would protect reporters and their technology providers from revealing their confidential sources and from federal abuse of subpoena power, a legal protection already available in 49 states. The bill provides some exceptions to these prohibitions such as in cases involving risk of imminent personal bodily harm or death, terrorism, the commission of crimes unrelated to journalism, and slander, libel, and defamation.

Administrations of both parties have often gone after journalists who have exposed the truth about waste, fraud, abuse, and malfeasance to intimidate them. Although the Department of Justice last year adopted a new policy restricting subpoenas and seizures from journalists, it could just as easily be suspended, ignored, or secretly altered. Importantly, the PRESS Act would codify into law this prohibition, making it real and permanent.

Surveillance of Congress and the press has significant implications for the willingness of whistleblowers to communicate with Congress and for Congress to deliberate free from undue pressure. It also implicates the ability and willingness of the press to report the news. 

The press should not fear the government will force them to disclose information about their lawful work nor punish them for lawful activities. The PRESS Act would protect First Amendment freedoms and a free press, critical components of a healthy democracy.

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