DOJ’s Seizure of Reporter’s Records Raises Questions About the Continuing Force of DOJ Media Guidelines

June 08, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice secretly seized years of phone and email records belonging to New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, the Times reported last night. Watkins was informed by the Justice Department that, in relation to an investigation of leaks, the Department had seized years of her customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, including records from when she reported on national security for outlets including BuzzFeed News and Politico.

The following statement is attributable to Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University:

“Government surveillance of a reporter’s communications would be concerning under any circumstances, but it is especially so here. It is unclear whether the government exhausted other options before seizing Watkins’ phone and email records. It’s also not apparent why it was necessary to collect years’ worth of sensitive information. Finally, there is a question whether Watkins was notified in a timely way of the surveillance. It is thus unclear whether the search complied even with the Justice Department’s own guidelines relating to surveillance of the media.”
 

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.