Washington — The Justice Department has codified a policy to ban subpoenas, search warrants and other compulsory legal measures against newsgathering journalists in most circumstances, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.
The regulations officially adopted a policy Garland announced last year that restricted the legal action federal prosecutors could take against members of the news media as they pursue their work.
Justice Department employees will be receiving”comprehensive training” about the new standards and requirements under the new regulations, according to a memo sent to department staff.
“These regulations recognize the crucial role that a free and independent press plays in our democracy,” Garland said.
The yearslong effort by the Biden administration to limit the legal targeting of journalists – specifically those potentially linked to leak investigations — was a response to reports that the current White House planned to continue a controversial Trump-era effort to curb leaks and investigative reporters.
The policies were the product of work with federal prosecutors and members of the media, the department said.
The new regulations are “intended to provide protection to members of the news media from certain law enforcement tools and actions, whether criminal or civil, that might unreasonably impair newsgathering,” the Justice Department said, banning the use of legal action against journalists in most circumstances.
“The policy is not intended to shield from accountability members of the news media who are subjects or targets of a criminal investigation for conduct outside the scope of newsgathering,” according to a copy of the regulations posted online.
But Department employees will now have to consider multiple factors when they’re applying for subpoenas, search warrants and using other investigative tools against active journalists, for instance, whether the matter deals with “protecting national security” or “ensuring public safety.”