The sanctity of newspaper reporters' and editors' notes and other work product received a blow in Pennsylvania. The case involves a leak of confidential data: the password to a database of criminal records. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
...the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has seized four computer hard drives from a Lancaster newspaper as part of a statewide grand—jury investigation into leaks to reporters.
The dispute pits the government's desire to solve an alleged felony — computer hacking — against the news media's fear that taking the computers circumvents the First Amendment and the state Shield Law.
The state Supreme Court declined last week to take the case, allowing agents to begin analyzing the data.
"This is horrifying, an editor's worst nightmare," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington. "For the government to actually physically have those hard drives from a newsroom is amazing. I'm just flabbergasted to hear of this."
The grand jury is investigating whether the Lancaster County coroner gave reporters for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal his password to a restricted law enforcement Web site. The site contained nonpublic details of local crimes. The newspaper allegedly used some of those details in articles.
If the reporters used the Web site without authorization, officials say, they may have committed a crime.
This case bears close watching. We are living through a period of targeted leaks aimed at a war policy from which members of various government bureaucracies dissent.
Hat tip: Jack MacKenzie
Thomas Lifson 3 15 06