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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Goes to Bat for Shielding Media’s Phones

(CN) - A new California law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown gives journalists a five-day warning before officials can seize their phone or other records from third parties.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association sponsored the bill after it was disclosed that the U.S. Department of Justice had used a secret subpoena in 2012 to retrieve two months worth of Associated Press phone records for more than 20 telephone lines through third-party vendors, such as phone companies and Internet service providers.

California's existing reporter's shield law calls for journalists who are subpoenaed in civil or criminal proceedings to be given at least five days' notice by the party issuing the subpoena.

Senate Bill 558, which Brown signed Thursday, calls for "a party issuing a subpoena in any civil or criminal proceeding to a third party that seeks the records of a journalist to provide notice of the subpoena to the journalist and the publisher of the newspaper, magazine, or other publication or station operations manager or the broadcast station that employs or contracts with the journalist" at least five days before issuing the subpoena.

The bill, drafted by Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, also requires the notice to include an explanation of why the requested records are needed and why alternate sources of information are not sufficient to meet the requesting party's needs.

Such notice allows journalists and publishers the chance to challenge the subpoena or attempt to narrow the scope of information the third party would be required to disclose.

Notice would not be required if it would pose a danger to someone's life or harm an ongoing criminal investigation.

The new protections for reporters apply only to subpoenas issued in California, not those issued at the federal level.

Both houses passed the bill without opposition. It will take effect in January.

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