Sunday, April 6, 2014
Need to find a particular document or search for a particular name in the trove of items made available from the National Security Agency? Or just want to look around?
The ACLU now has a handy database, available here.
As the announcement explains:
This tool will be an up-to-date, complete collection of previously secret NSA documents made public since last June. The database is designed to be easily searchable – by title, category, or content – so that the public, researchers, and journalists can readily home in on the information they are looking for.
We have made all of the documents text-searchable to allow users to investigate particular key words or phrases. Alternatively, the filter function allows users to sort based on the type of surveillance involved, the specific legal authorities implicated, the purpose of the surveillance, or the source of the disclosure. For example, you can have the database return all documents that both pertain to "Section 215" and "Internal NSA/DOJ Legal Analysis."
An important tool for scholars and advocates.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In the oral arguments last week in Wood v. Moss and the Court's 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards, the Secret Service was center stage. Recall that both cases involve qualified immunity for Secret Service agents against constitutional claims and raise the specter that the individual agents acted inappropriately. And in both cases, there is some valorization of the agents and their difficult task of protecting the President (in Wood) and the Vice-President (in Reichle).
Arguing for the United States Government in Wood v. Moss, the Deputy Solicitor General expressed the fear that not upholding qualified immunity would lead to a "demoralization of the service leaning in the direction of being overly careful and therefore risking the life of the President" and that allowing discovery is "exactly the nightmare scenario that the Secret Service fears" including "
discovery into what the agents were thinking" and "what the Secret Service's policies were."
And in Reichle, Justice Ginsburg concurring in the unanimous opinion, discusses the difficult facts in the case as well as deference to the agents' role:
Officers assigned to protect public officials must make singularly swift, on the spot, decisions whether the safety of the person they are guarding is in jeopardy. In performing that protective function, they rightly take into account words spoken to, or in the proximity of, the person whose safety is their charge. Whatever the views of Secret Service Agents Reichle and Doyle on the administration’s policies in Iraq, they were duty bound to take the content of Howards’ statements into account in determining whether he posed an immediate threat to the Vice President’s physical security. Retaliatory animus cannot be inferred from the assessment they made in that regard.
But one wonders how positive views of the Secret Service suffer given recurrent scandals involving the Secret Service. As the United States Supreme Court was considering Reichle, there was the scandal in Colombia involving more than a dozen agents, but a later Homeland Security report (official synposis here) found that there was not "widespread sexual misconduct." Most recently, at least one agent assigned to protect the President was reportedly "found drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway." This latest scandal was reportedly not good news for the Secret Service's first woman director who has "tried to implement reforms." One former Secret Service agent writes in a WaPo op-ed that the problem is not bad agents but bad leadership."
But whether attributed to bad leadership or what might be called "bad apples," should these revelations about the bad judgments of secret service agents influence the Court's own judgments? Doctrines such as qualified immunity and strict pleading requirements that prevent discovery serve to protect Secret Service agents from their "nightmares" (as the Deputy Solicitor General phrased it), but might they also insulate the Secret Service from responsibility for the nightmares they cause others.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Labeled "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance," February 11, 2014 has been designated as a day to "make calls and drive emails to lawmakers" regarding two pieces of legislation.
The activists support the USA Freedom Act, S 1599 ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act). The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the bill, but considers it a "floor not a ceiling" and discusses its limitations including not covering persons outside the US, encryption, and standing issues. The ACLU legislative counsel "strongly supports" the legislation, noting that while it is not perfect, it is an "important first step," and highlights the fact that one of the sponsors in the House of Representatives is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who "was the lead author of the Patriot Act and now is the chair of the House's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Crime."
The activists urge the rejection of The FISA Improvements Act S 1631, most closely associated with the bill's sponsor, Dianne Feinstein.
While focused on legislative action, many of the materials and arguments ground themselves in the First and Fourth Amendments. Organizers state that the day commemorates Aaron Swartz, who also invoked constitutional norms.
February 11, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, State Secrets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 10, 2014
A new digital publication, The Intercept, created by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, launched today. It describes itself as devoted to reporting on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and in the longer term, to broaden its scope.
Included is the article "The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program" by Scahill and Greenwald, arguing that the NSA uses electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes, which is "an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people."
The article relies on a variety of sources, confidential and not, to paint a portrait of the "targeted killing" program. It ends by implicating President Obama:
Whether or not Obama is fully aware of the errors built into the program of targeted assassination, he and his top advisors have repeatedly made clear that the president himself directly oversees the drone operation and takes full responsibility for it.
And Obama may even think it's one a "strong suit" of his.
This will definitely be a publication to watch for anyone interested in Executive, military, and other government powers.
Friday, January 17, 2014
In a highly anticipated event today, President Obama delivered his remarks accompanied by a directive, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28, on "Signals Intelligence Activities," regarding NSA Surveillance. Recall that late last year a presidential advisory committee issued a report with specific recommendations, that one program has been subject to differing judicial interepretations - - - in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional - - - and that the national discussion on this issue is largely attributable to Edward Snowden.
While the judicial opinions did not specifically feature in Obama's remarks, Snowden did:
Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or motivations. I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.
But the details, as usual, can be a bit more perplexing. For example, consider this qualification to "competitive advantage" :
Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a "scorecard" before Obama's remarks and directive. Afterwards, it tweeted the results of its assessment of Obama's performance:
January 17, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, State Secrets, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 13, 2014
In brief, the answer it proposes is "no."
The report is authored by Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Emily Schneider, and Bailey Cahall. As Cyrus Farivar over at Ars Technica points out, the lead author Peter Bergen is well known as "a journalist and terrorism analyst who famously interviewed Osama bin Laden for CNN in 1997."
The report confirms federal District Judge Richard Leon's statement in his opinion in Klayman v. Obama that "the Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature." (emphasis in original). Recall that Judge Leon issued a preliminary injunction against the surveillance, although he then stayed it.
Recall also that another federal district judge dismissed a complaint raising essentially the same issues a week later in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper.
With President Obama evaluating the NSA surevillance program including the Recommendations from President's NSA Surveillance Review Group and with the question of whether the NSA's surveillance extends to members of Congress being asked, this newest report deserves to be read closely. If there is a balance to be struck between security and liberty, the efficacy of the security measures are certainly relevant.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
A new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty Medsger tells the "never-before-told full story of the 1971 history-changing break-in of the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania" that made clear the "shocking truth" that J. Edgar Hoover was spying on Americans and which led to the Ciontelpro scandal.
The NYT report compares the 1971 incident to contemporary events:
"Unlike Mr. Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of digital N.S.A. files onto computer hard drives, the Media burglars did their work the 20th-century way: they cased the F.B.I. office for months, wore gloves as they packed the papers into suitcases, and loaded the suitcases into getaway cars. When the operation was over, they dispersed. Some remained committed to antiwar causes, while others, like John and Bonnie Raines, decided that the risky burglary would be their final act of protest against the Vietnam War and other government actions before they moved on with their lives."
The NYT video, part of its "retro report" series is definitely worth a watch.
On NPR, one important aspect is how Betty Medsger obtained and accessed the information:
"I think most striking in the Media files at first was a statement that had to do with the philosophy, the policy of the FBI," Medsger says. "And it was a document that instructed agents to enhance paranoia, to make people feel there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox."
The NPR segment is definitely worth a listen:
Monday, December 30, 2013
As we discussed earlier this month, two federal district judges have reached opposite conclusions regarding the constitutionality of NSA surveillance as revealed by Edward Snowden. In Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional.
Both of these opinions have brought renewed attention to the 1979 “pen register” case - - - Smith v. Maryland - - - which involved the application of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” to a then new, and now outmoded, technology that could ascertain the number a phone was dialing. As footnote 1 of Smith explained, “A pen register is a mechanical device that records the numbers dialed on a telephone by monitoring the electrical impulses caused when the dial on the telephone is released. It does not overhear oral communications and does not indicate whether calls are actually completed.” It is "usually installed at a central telephone facility [and] records on a paper tape all numbers dialed from [the] line" to which it is attached.”
In Smith, the Court looked to its “lodestar” 1967 decision in Katz v. United States (involving a telephone booth) and determined that there was no “search” under the Fourth Amendment because the person invoking the constitutional protection did not have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of privacy. For the majority in Smith this lack of an expectation of privacy was based on a consumer’s understanding of telephone technology: telephone subscribers know that the telephone company receives their transmitted telephone number (that is how the call is completed) and can record that number (perhaps for a long distance charge). And even if a consumer does not subjectively understand this, any expectation of privacy that such circumstances did not occur would not be legitimate.
Now Smith v. Maryland has become a “lodestar” decision of its own. Judge Richard Leon's decision in Klayman extensively analyzed the opinion, eventually concluding that “the Smith pen register and the ongoing NSA Bulk Telephony Metadata Program have so many significant distinctions between them that I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.” To the contrary, Judge Pauley, granting the government's motion to dismiss in ACLU v. Clapper essentially used Smith as the opinion's guiding light.
But perhaps the choice is not as stark as whether Smith is steady in the Fourth Amendment skies. Looking at Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Smith, he illuminates the two prongs of Katz:
as Mr. Justice Harlan aptly noted in his Katz concurrence, normally embraces two discrete questions. The first is whether the individual, by his conduct, has "exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy," whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual has shown that "he seeks to preserve [something] as private." The second question is whether the individual's subjective expectation of privacy is "one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable,' "—whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual's expectation, viewed objectively, is "justifiable" under the circumstances.5
[citations omitted]. Perhaps importantly, the passage ends with a footnote:
Situations can be imagined, of course, in which Katz' two-pronged inquiry would provide an inadequate index of Fourth Amendment protection. For example, if the Government were suddenly to announce on nationwide television that all homes henceforth would be subject to warrantless entry, individuals thereafter might not in fact entertain any actual expectation or privacy regarding their homes, papers, and effects. Similarly, if a refugee from a totalitarian country, unaware of this Nation's traditions, erroneously assumed that police were continuously monitoring his telephone conversations, a subjective expectation of privacy regarding the contents of his calls might be lacking as well. In such circumstances, where an individual's subjective expectations had been "conditioned" by influences alien to well-recognized Fourth Amendment freedoms, those subjective expectations obviously could play no meaningful role in ascertaining what the scope of Fourth Amendment protection was. In determining whether a "legitimate expectation of privacy" existed in such cases, a normative inquiry would be proper.
Law Prof Josh Blackman, over at his blog, has revealed the sources of this footnote - - - apparently necessary to address Justice Stevens’ concerns about a totalitarian regime that would make any expectation of privacy by individuals not reasonable or legitimate. Josh Blackman reproduces the correspondence showing that Stevens asked for the footnote and got it, eliminating his need for a separate concurrence.
Apparently, Justices Stewart, Marshall, and Brennan, who did dissent, had concerns that were not so simply assuaged.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to deliberate footnote 5 in light of the extent to which Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of surveillance have been greeted as confirmatory and predictable rather than as shocking and outrageous. And perhaps footnote 5 might become as important as other constitutional footnotes as we (re)consider what the expectations of privacy in a constitutional democracy should be.
[image: time-lapsed image of Polaris, the North Star, via]
Monday, December 23, 2013
The Director of National Intelligence this weekend released previously classified DNI and NSA declarations in support of the government's assertions of the state secrets privilege in litigation challenge the TSP program. We posted on the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege in Jewel v. NSA here.
The cases, Jewel v. NSA and In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Record Litigation, both in the Northern District of California, challenged the NSA's "dragnet" surveillance program. The declarations say that no such program exists, and that to defend the cases would reveal national security secrets.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Janet Reitman's excellent article in Rolling Stone entitled "Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets" and subtitled "How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year" is worth a read, nevermind the tags meant to attract Rolling Stone's target demographic. With this past summer's New York Time magazine article "How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets" by Peter Maas, there is much in both of these pieces that merits consideration.
True, the articles are journalistic. Reitman tells us that for "a man living in the middle of a John le Carre' novel, Greenwald has a pretty good life." She then talks about his dogs (also mentioned in the article by Maas). It's the stuff of human interest stories. But Reitman also gives Greenwald's story of lawyering: first with a law firm and then in his own practice, "defending the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis.":
It was one of Greenwald's prouder accomplishments as an attorney. "To me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy," he says, "not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate."
Monday, November 18, 2013
In its routine order list today, the Court's list of "MANDAMUS DENIED" included "13-58 - IN RE ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER."
The petition for writ of mandamus and prohibition or writ of certiorari was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and essentially sought review of an Order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The order redacts the names of the parties from whom the "tangible things" are sought, but the petition describes the order as compelling "Verizon Business Network Services to produce to the National Security Agency, on an ongoing basis, all of the call detail records of Verizon customers."
As one of its Questions Presented, the petition stated:
Whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its narrow statutory authority to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance, under 50 U.S.C. § 1861, when it ordered Verizon to disclose records to the National Security Agency for all telephone communications “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The import of the Supreme Court's denial is both trivial and momentous. On the one hand, there is little if anything to be read into the Court's refusal to exercise its highly discretionary power to grant a petition for a writ as it does in 1% of cases. On the other hand, there is something to be inferred about the Court's interest in and willingness to supervise the unusual FISA given constitutional rights.
But the Court's failure to accept the case certainly does not mean the underlying issues will be so easily dispatched.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Dave Eggers' new novel, The Circle, is a thought-provoking read for anyone working on surveillance, state secrets, corporate governance, privacy, or First Amendment issues as broadly defined. There are have been some questions raised, as in the review in Wired, whether the book is technologically sophisticated - - - I'd say it's not - - - or whether it works as literature - - - again, I'd lean towards not. I also think there are some gender and sexual politics that merit further analysis and mar the novel. But even with these faults, it is one of those books that gives expression to the way one sees daily life in our connected age.
Margaret Atwood has a terrific review of the book in New York Review of Books that gives a good overview of the themes, laced with literary references that the novel itself lacks. Discussing the book over at the New Yorker Blog, Betsy Morais contextualizes the novel, including some of the criticisms and analogues. There's a good rundown of reviews and the divisions about the book in The Atlantic "Wire."
The book lingers after it is read because it raises interesting questions about the relationships between corporate power and government, as well as our complicity in this internet and social age. And it's a quick read - - - especially electronically.
UPDATE: And here's the NYT Sunday Book Review by Ellen Ullman, who concludes the novel "adds little to the debate" : "Books and tweets and blogs are already debating the issues Eggers raises: the tyranny of transparency, personhood defined as perpetual presence in social networks, our strange drive to display ourselves, the voracious information appetites of Google and Facebook, our lives under the constant surveillance of our own government."
Monday, October 21, 2013
A few Power Point slides are published in Le Monde. But Journalist Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden have also released additional Power Point Slides that are worth a look. A set of eleven slides have some redactions, but will also seem eerily familiar to anyone who has ever prepared or seen a Power Point presentation:
Friday, October 11, 2013
In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records. An “Insider Threat Program” being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues.
Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters’ phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being “an aider, abettor and/or conspirator” of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail.
This is definitely worth a read, especially for anyone interested in the First Amendment or State Secrets.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Chelsea Manning, convicted as Private Bradley Manning in a controversial military trial for revealing information to WikiLeaks, issued the first statement since her conviction, prompted in part by receiving a peace award. She stated that although her actions may have had pacficist "implications," she does not consider herself a pacifist. Rather, she is a "transparency advocate." The statement also contains specific discussion of gender identity. Manning's two page statement is worth a read, as is the accompanying article in The Guardian (to whom the statement was released) by Ed Pilkington.
Meanwhile in New York City, the latest and most ambitious project of the British public artist Banksy in his self-proclaimed October artist's residency on the streets of New York, alludes to Manning. The street art's references might be somewhat illusive to a casual observer:
But Banksy's site featuring this image (as well as another), also includes an "audio guide." It derives from some of the materials that Manning disclosed. Gothamist has a good explanation (and more photos). The Village Voice has excellent (with continuing) coverage of Banksy's art here and a profile with quoted material here.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
It's worth comparing two views of the National Security Administration (NSA) and its searches.
First, take a look at the views of Amy Zegart, the co-director of Stanford University's "Center for International Security and Cooperation." Zegart and other scholars participated in a "rare briefing" at NSA to consider "cybersecurity, the plummeting public trust in the agency, its relationship with Congress and how to rebuild the agency’s reputation and rethink its program operations." Zegart's interview is mostly sympathetic to NSA concerns, but she does say this:
They definitely wanted us to believe that what they are doing is lawful and effective. I believe the lawful part; I’m not so sure about the effective part. I think they haven’t looked hard enough about what effective means. Do they know it when they see it? And who’s to judge?
Nevertheless, it's a rather sharp contrast with a NYT article, co-authored by James Risen (recall his lititgation asserting a reporter's First Amendment right to protect sources) and Laura Poitras (recall her involvement in the Snowden revelations) that discusses wide ranging collection of data and metadata. They often rely on anonymous sources discussing classified information. Perhaps most startling is this passage in the article's last paragraph, quoting from a 2011 memo, that said even
after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The image is from an architectural brochure linked in Glenn Greenwald's article this morning in The Guardian, "Inside the mind of NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander," subtitled "A lavish Star Trek room he had built as part of his 'Information Dominance Center' is endlessly revealing."
Worth a look - - - and read - - - for anyone working on national security, state secrets, or surveillance issues.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
As the headline in the Miami Herald article proclaims, "Guantánamo judge makes secret ruling on secret motion in secret hearing."
Released today, on the twelfth anniversary of September 11 tragedy, is a transcript of an August hearing relating to the September 11 co-conspirators. It's worth a read - - - or perhaps "a look" would be more accurate.
Here's a snippet:
However, it does become clear that the Prosecution sought to prevent "something" from discovery by defense counsel and that the judge decided in favor of defense counsel representing the September 11 co-conspirators.
Monday, July 22, 2013
In its opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, a sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source.
The underlying controversy involves James Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration and the prosecution of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling for various crimes related to his revealtions of classified information. As Chief Fourth Circuit Judge William Traxler, writing for the panel majority on this issue, describes it,
Chapter 9 of the book, entitled “A Rogue Operation,” reveals details about Classified Program No. 1. J.S.A. 219-32. In the book, Risen entitled the program “Operation Merlin” and described it as a “failed attempt by the CIA to have a former Russian scientist provide flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran.” J.A. 722. Risen does not reveal his sources for the classified information in Chapter 9, nor has he indicated whether he had more than one source. However, much of the chapter is told from the point of view of a CIA case officer responsible for handling Human Asset No. 1. The chapter also describes two classified meetings at which Sterling was the only common attendee.
While the opinion involves two other issues, involving the suppression of the testimony of two other government witnesses and the withholding of the identities of several covert CIA operatives under the Classified Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), 18 U.S.C. app. 3 - - - issues on which Chief Judge Traxler wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion - - - the nonexistence of a reporters' privilege is the most central from a constitutional perspective. The majority opinion was unequivocal:
There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.
The majority reasoned that this result was mandated by the United States Supreme Court's 1972 opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes. It did not credit the argument that Justice Powell’s concurring opinion in Branzburg made Branzburg's holding less clear. Instead, it rejected Risen's contention that Powell's concurrence "should instead be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of Justice Stewart’s dissenting opinion, which argued in favor of recognizing a First Amendment privilege in criminal cases that could be overcome only if the government carries the heavy burden of establishing a compelling interest or need." The majority stated that just as in Branzburg, Risen has
“direct information . . . concerning the commission of serious crimes.” Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 709. Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury –- the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead.
That the crime is the leak itself does not seem to be noteworthy. The majority likewise rejected the notion that there was any common law privilege.
For Judge Robert Gregory, dissenting, principles of a free press as expressed in the First Amendment should include a reporter's privilege, that should then be evaluated under a balancing test:
Protecting the reporter’s privilege ensures the informed public discussion of important moral, legal, and strategic issues. Public debate helps our government act in accordance with our Constitution and our values. Given the unprecedented volume of information available in the digital age – including information considered classified – it is important for journalists to have the ability to elicit and convey to the public an informed narrative filled with detail and context. Such reporting is critical to the way our citizens obtain information about what is being done in their name by the government.
For Judge Gregory, Justice Powell's concurring opinion modifies the holding of Branzburg. Recognizing that the "full import of Justice Powell’s concurrence continues to be debated," Judge Gregory notes that appellate courts have subsequently hewed closer to Justice Powell’s concurrence – and Justice Stewart’s dissent – than to the majority opinion, and a number of courts have since recognized a qualified reporter’s privilege, often utilizing a three-part balancing test." He thus finds it "sad" that the majority "departs from Justice Powell’s Branzburg concurrence and our established precedent to announce for the first time that the First Amendment provides no protection for reporters." Judge Gregory would also recognize a "common law privilege protecting a reporter’s sources pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 501."
While there are statutory proposals and provisions aplenty, the continuing confusion over the meaning of Branzburg and the existence of a reporter's First Amendment or even common right to retain confidentiality of sources does call for resolution. The Fourt Circuit's divided opinion squarely presents the issue for the Supreme Court .