Come Clean: Groups Demand Transparency from Attorney General Eric Holder

A day after President Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review the Justice Department’s guidelines regarding interactions with the press, Free Press and a diverse coalition of civil liberties, digital rights and open government groups weighed in on the agency’s treatment of journalists’ sources and information.

Representing millions of Americans, 62 groups signed the letter, demanding a full, transparent account of the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists and whistleblowers. The letter and full list of signers follow below.

Among the signers were the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the Communications Workers of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Sunlight Foundation and the Writers Guild of America East.

The letter asserts that the Justice Department’s actions are not just a threat to press freedom, but to a healthy democracy. “The Obama administration promised a new era of openness and transparency,” the letter reads. “Your actions, which expand secrecy and intimidate those trying to shed more light on our government, run counter to that promise.”

The events of the past two weeks show why we need to engage the broader public in meaningful debate about the First Amendment and press freedom. Journalists can’t win this fight on their own — and they shouldn’t have to, especially since there are now so many media makers operating outside of traditional newsrooms.

This was a key point in the letter: “Threats to press freedom threaten anyone who seeks to share information about official actions using a cellphone, social media service or website.”

To that end, Free Press also delivered more than 16,000 petition signatures urging the Justice Department to protect press freedom. “The Justice Department’s abuse of press freedom is appalling, and the consequences could be far-reaching,” said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. “The broad range of groups speaking out today signals the beginning of a broader popular movement defending press freedom.”

As the Justice Department begins its review, it should adopt a transparent approach that engages this larger movement and the public.

Read the full text of the letter and the list of signers below:


May 24, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave.

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Sirs:

More than 50 journalism and press organizations recently wrote you to voice grave concerns about the Justice Department’s subpoena of telephone records belonging to Associated Press reporters and editors. We write today as a coalition of civil rights, public interest, transparency and media reform groups to express similar concerns.

Your actions have threatened press freedom — and endangered the health of our democracy. As groups working to strengthen democratic institutions and foster more open government, we are deeply concerned that your agency’s actions will hinder efforts to make government more transparent and accountable to the public.

Following years of aggressive leak investigations, the Justice Department’s overreaching subpoena of AP phone records sets a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, it appears to violate the Department’s own rules and guidelines. The impact of the Justice Department’s actions is already being felt. AP CEO Gary Pruitt reports that sources are now less willing to talk to reporters. And journalists from newsrooms large and small have noted the chilling effects on their coverage of the government.

The latest news suggests that the subpoenas were even broader than initially reported. In addition, details are emerging about a case in which the Justice Department also seized phone records from reporters at Fox News and labeled one of its journalists a “co-conspirator” for simply doing his job.

These troubling developments raise real questions about the scope of the Department’s surveillance of journalists. At a recent congressional hearing, Mr. Holder, you couldn’t recall how many times the Justice Department has subpoenaed journalists’ records. We need to know the full extent of your Department’s crackdown against journalists.

In the digital age, reporting is no longer confined to America’s traditional newsrooms. As such, threats to press freedom threaten anyone who seeks to share information about official actions using a cellphone, social media service or website. The Obama administration promised a new era of openness and transparency. Your actions, which expand secrecy and intimidate those trying to shed more light on our government, run counter to that promise.

We demand a full accounting of the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists and whistleblowers. We need this information so that we can advocate for appropriate action to protect everyone’s constitutional rights and push for stronger legal standards to protect all types of information gathering and sharing.

The Justice Department must explain its overreach in this matter. Furthermore, we call on the Department to stop violating its existing rules and cease targeting of individuals and organizations reporting on government activity.

Sincerely,

ACCESS
Alliance for Women in Media
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
The Banyan Project
Brave New Films
Center for Democracy and Technology
ColorOfChange.org
The Committee to Protect Journalists
Common Cause
Communications Workers of America
CREDO Action
CultureStrike
Defending Dissent Foundation
Digital Media Law Project
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Georgia First Amendment Foundation
IndyMedia
Investigative News Network
iSolon.org
Katy's Exposure Blog
Knowledge Ecology International
LAMP: Learning About Multimedia Project
Media Alliance
The Media Consortium
Media Mobilizing Project
Mine Safety and Health News
MuckRock
National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture
National Association of Black Journalists
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Federation of Community Broadcasters
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Priorities Project
Native Public Media
The Newspaper Guild-CWA
OpenTheGovernment.org
Park Center for Independent Media
Participatory Politics Foundation
PEN American Center
Personal Democracy Media
Project Censored
Project On Government Oversight
Prometheus Radio Project
Public Record Media
RootsAction.org
Society of Professional Journalists
Sunlight Foundation
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
United Republic
TheUptake.org
Utah Foundation for Open Government
Washington Civil Rights Council
Women In Media & News
Women, Action & the Media
Women's Media Center
WRFN, Radio Free Nashville
Writers Guild of America, East

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