Monday, May 3, 2010

Scheer: Gizmodo editor subjected to virtual strip search

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, says in a commentary posted at CNN.com that the San Mateo County District Attorney's decision to use a search warrant on the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen was the equivalent of a strip search.
    Use of search warrants against journalists is devastating because it demonstrates that they can't keep [promises of confidentiality to sources] -- it is beyond their power. And the damage is not confined to the journalist who is the subject of a warrant, but extends, logically, to all reporters who have confidential sources. 
    ... It didn't have to be this way. The DA could have, and should have, served Chen with a subpoena for records relating to the iPhone story. Use of a subpoena, unlike a warrant, gives the recipient an opportunity to hire a lawyer, to consider his options, and to assert any defenses or privileges that might be available. 
    Even if those arguments fail, and the reporter is ordered to produce records and information, the harms from a search conducted pursuant to a warrant -- including the jeopardy to journalists' access to confidential sources -- are avoided. 
    For these reasons, two laws, one federal and the other a California statute, require prosecutors' use of subpoenas, rather than warrants, to obtain information from journalists in criminal investigations.

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