Free Flow of Information Act gains toehold
October 1, 2013
By Jessica Conway-Ellis
Government Relations Specialist | NNA
WASHINGTON—The Free Flow of Information Act moved successfully through the Senate Committee on the Judiciary with a 13-5 vote in September.
All members of the committee voted in favor of the bill except for Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, Jeff Flake, R-AZ, John Cornyn, R-TX, Michael S. Lee, R-UT, and Ted Cruz, R-TX. The bill brings with it the hope that Congress will provide federal statutory protection for journalists.
The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 is not the first bill of its kind to find itself in the Senate pipeline. Similar bills have been introduced but none have become law. This particular bill, S. 987, was amended by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Richard Durbin, D-IL. The amendment narrows the definition of those people protected by the bill in deference to national security concerns.
The FFIA is needed, its supporters say, because the only protection journalists have had regarding source confidentiality, is prosecutorial restraint and a patchwork of judicial rulings. The seizure of The Associated Press phone records this year by the Department of Justice outraged journalists’ groups and fueled another effort to get a federal shield law passed. Through the FFIA, media sources and the government are attempting to negotiate a permanent standard that journalists and their confidential sources can rely on in court.
The bill would provide criteria that must be met before a journalist can be compelled to disclose protected information, with some exceptions in cases of national security or public danger. These criteria would require that the party seeking to compel information undergo judicial review with regard to protected information. The law would also require notice to news associations in the event of electronic records seizure before the records could be seized, providing them an opportunity to challenge the seizure in court.
The next step is for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to report the legislation to the full Senate. With only a few days left in the first session of the 113th Congress, the bill is likely to remain on the calendar until early next spring. A companion House Bill, HR 1962, has not seen action. The webcast link to the Sept. 12, 2013 business meeting of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary can be found at judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=6225bf1b82d2592b6b470bc0d4b52acb.