Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), troubled by the FBI's collection of phone records of four New York Times and Washington Post reporters, say the episode showed a “pressing need” for legislation that would provide greater legal protection for journalists, the Times reports. The FBI disclosed last week that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters in Indonesian bureaus in 2004 by using emergency records demands from telephone providers as part of an investigation.
Because of free-press concerns, Justice Department policy requires that the FBI get approval from the deputy attorney general before obtaining reporters' phone records in an investigation. That was not done in this case. Leahy and Specter said the episode and the Justice Department inspector general's broader findings on the agency's misuse of demands for phone records “create a troubling impression of deliberate wrongdoing or serious negligence at the FBI.” The senators told FBI director Robert Mueller that the latest episode bolstered the need for a federal shield law for reporters that would protect sources and news-gathering methods.