Reversing years of Justice Department policy, Attorney General Merrick Garland has formally prohibited federal prosecutors from seizing the records of journalists in leak investigations, with limited exceptions, reports the Associated Press. The new policy largely codifies Garland’s decision in June to abandon the practice of seizing reporters’ records as part of efforts to uncover confidential sources, favoring the media’s First Amendment rights against the government’s desire to protect classified information.
However, exceptions to the ruling include if the reporters are suspected of working for agents of a foreign power or terrorist organizations, if they are under investigation for unrelated activities or if they obtained their information through criminal methods like breaking and entering. There are also exceptions for situations with imminent risks, like kidnappings or crimes against children. Garland’s decision was in response to the uproar over revelations that the Justice Department during the Donald Trump administration had obtained records belonging to journalists at The Washington Post, CNN and The New York Times as part of investigations into who had disclosed government secrets related to the Russia investigation and other national security matters.