WASHINGTON — The bad news if you're a reporter writing about information the government would rather not be published: The Justice Department can still snoop on you.
The good news, after a new report from the Justice Department Friday: They'll probably have to tell you about it.
Following outrage over news that federal investigators seeking to prosecute government leakers obtained thousands of phone records from the Associated Press and the e-mails of Fox News correspondent James Rosen, President Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review how and when the Justice Department snoops on journalists. On Friday, Holder presented his report and distributed it to the public.
Holder's statement on the report:
"The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring our nation's security, and protecting the American people, while at the same time safeguarding the freedom of the press. These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorized disclosures. While these reforms will make a meaningful difference, there are additional protections that only Congress can provide. For that reason, we continue to support the passage of media shield legislation. I look forward to working with leaders from both parties to achieve this goal, and am grateful to all of the journalists, free speech advocates, experts, and Administration leaders who have come together in recent weeks – in good faith, and with mutual respect – to guide and inform the changes we announce today."
Update: White House spokesperson Matt Lehrich said the president applauds Holder's report, and joined Holder's call for a media shield law. He signaled the government will focus on punishing leakers with other means besides criminal investigations.
"[A]s the Justice Department states in its report, pursuing a criminal investigation and prosecution is not always the most efficient and effective way to address leaks of classified information," Lehrich said in a statement. "There are circumstances in which leaks are better addressed through administrative means, such as withdrawal of security clearances or imposition of other sanctions. The President agrees with the Justice Department's recommendation and has directed his team to explore how the Administration could more effectively use alternatives in appropriate cases."