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Federal Reporter Shield Law Reintroduced in Congress

A bipartisan, bicameral group of U.S. senators and representatives have reintroduced a federal shield law aimed at protecting journalists from compelled disclosure of information and sources.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Richard Durbin (D-IL) filed S. 2074, the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act, or the PRESS Act, on June 21.

"Spying on reporters to learn the identity of their sources is a finger in the eye of the First Amendment," Wyden said in a statement. 

"Unnecessary surveillance of journalists makes it harder to bring waste, fraud and abuse to light, by scaring off sources and reporters who are essential to a well-functioning democracy."

U.S. Reps. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) filed H.R. 4250, the house companion bill, the same day.

There are no Texas co-sponsors yet for either bill.

Almost all states and the District of Columbia have some form of journalist privilege, either through law or court decision, but there is no such federal protection.

TAB led the effort to successfully pass the 2009 Free Flow of Information Act, Texas’ reporter shield law that protects newsroom work product and prevents compelled testimony.

The PRESS Act was reintroduced this month after the measure was cut from the omnibus federal spending bill last December after Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton took to the Senate floor and voiced national security concerns.  

It’s the closest a federal shield law has ever come to passage.

A House shield law, H.R. 4330, passed the lower chamber by voice vote last September in the previous Congress.

Like Texas and many other state’s reporter shield laws, the draft federal bills offer a qualified privilege for journalists and newsrooms.

There are exceptions to the journalist privilege in S. 2074 and H.R. 4250 for information related to the threat of terrorism or imminent violence.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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