Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Shield Laws Don't Include Bloggers

For purposes of protecting source identity under state shield laws, webloggers are usually not considered to be journalists according to a Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service report prepared for Congress and titled Journalists' Privilege to Withhold Information in Judicial and Other Proceedings: State Shield Statutes. The report was released March 8, 2005.

The report gives a state-by-state breakdown of shield laws. Some states have no shield laws at all. None of the states explicity include or exclude webloggers from their laws. However, the eventual application of some vague shield laws to bloggers may be raised in some areas.

For example, the District of Columbia includes the following terminology in its definition of news media: "Any printed, photographic, mechanical, or electronic means of disseminating news and information to the public." The District of Columbia does not define "reporter" or "news".

Unlike many states, Illinois' definition of a "reporter" does not require the person to be earning a living by reporting, only that the person is "...regularly engaged in the business of collecting, writing, or editing news through a news medium on a full-time or part-time basis." The law goes on to define news medium to include "...any newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals whether in print or electronic format and having a general circulation." Arguably, a weblog producing information regularly and consistently and given general circulation through the Internet could meet the Illinois standard.

It seems logical that some day, a blogger is going to claim to be a journalist employed by a news medium and try to protect a source's identity under an appropriate state shield law. When that day comes, our present news media and state legislators will be pushed into addressing the legal status of weblogs and those who write them.


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