Amid controversy over U.S. Justice Department actions seeking news media phone records, Attorney General Eric Holder is initiating a dialogue with representatives of major media organizations, reports the Daily Beast. Holder's aides say he is encouraging a no-holds-barred conversation with the goal of updating and strengthening DOJ guidelines. Justice officials point to gaps in the guidelines to explain some of the more controversial actions taken by prosecutors. Unlike subpoenas to the media, search warrants are not even covered by the Justice Department's guidelines.
Holder aides say a number of changes are already being discussed. Among them would be stating a clear presumption in the guidelines against seizing reporters' work product, either through subpoena or search warrant. Currently, the guidelines require that prosecutors “take all reasonable steps to obtain the information through alternative sources or means.” (A presumption test would be a higher standard to overcome.) Another priority will be making sure that search-warrant applications are subjected to the same level of internal scrutiny that subpoenas currently receive before they are approved by the attorney general. Originally established in 1970 and updated in 1982 to include telephone records, the guidelines don't even mention emails, texts, or other forms of digital communication, like social media. Another possible reform would be the creation of stricter rules requiring advance notification before prosecutors can seize media phone records or information relating to other forms of communication.