Electronic surveillance: What reporters should know about the law

Selina MacLaren | News | May 12, 2017
A new report from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explores the legal framework for the government to obtain information about journalists’ communications. “Electronic Communications Surveillance: What Journalists and Media Organizations Need to Know” serves as a useful guide for journalists seeking a contemporary snapshot of surveillance law.
 
Using legal and regulatory protections for journalists as a starting point, the report surveys and defines a variety of communications surveillance tools that the U.S. government has at its disposal, such as National Security Letters, wiretaps, and search warrants, and advises that common journalism tools like email and text messaging may inadvertently expose reporters and their sources to surveillance.
 
Appended to the report is a chart that outlines these surveillance processes and the legal standards that control the scope of these processes. Armed with this legal understanding of surveillance risks, reporters will be better able to securely communicate with their sources.  
 
The Reporters Committee and the authors, Jennifer R. Henrichsen and Hannah Bloch-Wehba, both former fellows at the Reporters Committee, thank First Look Media and the Stanton Foundation for their generous support for this project.