April 12, 2005
Contact: Reid Cox
CFIF Urges California Court to Recognize
Privilege for Online Newsgatherers
Brief Argues that First Amendment Protects Bloggers
Alexandria, VAIn an amicus curiae brief filed Monday with the California Court of Appeal, the Center for Individual Freedom joined a group of webloggers, online publishers, law professors and free speech advocacy organizations arguing that online journalists have the same right to protect their confidential sources as the mainstream media.
"Protections for free speech and free press apply to everyone, not just the major media companies," said Reid Cox, the Centers General Counsel. "Over the past year, several of the most important news stories have been broken online by so-called pajama-wearing journalists. Surely these newsgatherers deserve the same constitutional protection as the suit-and-tie journalists who write their stories in traditional newsrooms."
Three webloggers brought the case after Apple Computer subpoenaed their e-mail records to determine who tipped them off to a new Apple product. The bloggers posted information about the secret and yet-to-be-released product on their websites, and are now asking the Court to allow them to protect the confidentiality of their sources.
In the brief authored by Lauren Gelman of Stanford Law Schools Center for Internet and Society, the group argues that the "applicability of the newsgatherers privilege is determined not by the reporters formal status as a professional journalist, but rather by the reporters functional conduct in gathering information with the purpose of disseminating it widely to the public." As a result, "those who publish on the Internet, including weblogs, may invoke the protection of the newsgatherers privilege when they are performing a reporting and dissemination function," the brief asserts, because it "would make little sense to have the newsgatherers privilege apply to reporting done for one medium but not for the other."
"The First Amendment applies just as strongly to the Internet as it does to the printing press and the broadcast airwaves. The courts need to recognize that speech must continue to be free whether it occurs offline or online," Cox concluded.
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