The Justice Department
announced on Saturday that it would discontinue the practice of seizing reporter records in order to determine who leaked information, according to The Associated Press
After several news
organizations were notified that certain reporters' phone records had been secretly obtained under the previous administration in 2019 and 2020, the reversal of a policy heavily criticized by press freedom
The New York Times
also revealed, hours before the reversal, that both the Trump and Biden administrations were working to obtain the email records of its reporters.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump
seized phone records from four reporters over a four-month period in 2017, adding to earlier reports that the Justice Department obtained records from CNN
and The Washington Post
reporters the same year, which the Biden administration privately disclosed to the outlets.
According to a Justice Department spokesman, the agency "strongly values a free press, protects First Amendment
values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure journalist independence."
“Going forward, consistent with the President’s direction, this Department of Justice
will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media
doing their jobs
,” spokesman Anthony Coley told the Associated Press.
Last month, President Joe Biden
condemned the practice of secretly obtaining the records of journalists
, which has been used by both Democratic
“Absolutely, positively, it’s wrong,” Biden said, adding, “It’s simply, simply wrong.”
The Times revealed on Friday that its top executives had been placed under a gag order, preventing them from discussing the government's legal battle to obtain the four reporters' email records. While the fight to obtain the emails began under the Trump administration
, the paper said, it had continued under the Biden administration until recently.
The actions of both the Trump and Biden administrations, according to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, “devastate press freedom profoundly.”
“Clearly, Google did the right thing,” Baquet said, “but it should never have come to this.” “In the final 15 days of the Trump administration, the Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest, and the Biden administration continued to pursue it.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki
stated that “no one at the White House was aware of the gag order until Friday night,” and that it was in conflict with Biden’s policy directives.