US adds protection for journalists in probes
The United States, under fire for secretly seizing journalists' records in a terrorism probe, unveiled new guidelines designed to give more protection to news organizations and newsgathering in criminal investigations.
The Justice Department said it would use "heightened standards" for seizing records of news organizations and would create a News Media Review Committee to advise officials.
The move came after an uproar over news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained months of phone records from the Associated Press as part of a criminal investigation into leaked information.
The news agency said the seizure was related to a May 2012 AP story about a foiled terror plot.
"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," Attorney General Eric Holder said in releasing the guidelines.
"These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorized disclosures."
Holder said the reforms "will make a meaningful difference" but also repeated his call for "media shield legislation" to put into law protection for journalists carrying out their job.
The new guidelines said media organizations should be notified in advance of any demand for records "in all but the most exceptional cases."
The AP protested that it was unaware its records had been obtained until after the fact.
The guidelines say advance notice should be given unless this would "pose a clear and substantial threat" to the investigation, harm national security or lead to "imminent risk of death or bodily harm."
Search warrants would face new standards, to require the information sought to be "narrowly tailored" to the investigation.
The guidelines also call forth a review committee that would include the department's head of public affairs, chief privacy officer and civil liberties officer.
Media organizations claimed the seizure of AP records was overly broad and could have a chilling effect on news gathering.
The US administration under President Barack Obama has been aggressive in pursuing leaks of secret government information.
Authorities have said they had opened a probe into Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked details about a vast US government electronic surveillance program.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was sentenced in January to two and a half years in prison for leaking the name of a secret agent implicated in harsh interrogations of Al-Qaeda suspects.