A federal shield law has run into a snag yet again, this time in
the wake of the Wikileaks data drop of documents about the Afghan
The bill has had a dicey trip through Congress, held up at one
point by administration concerns about national security. Now,
the Wikileaks leak has raised new concerns about its protection of online newsgathering
among those already concerned about how online journalism is and should be
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is reportedly working on an
amendment to make it clear that the new shield law would not protect a site
like Wikileaks, which is essentially a repository for collective leaks and
commentary on them.
A source working with a coalition of media groups trying to get
the bill passed after decades and by some accounts almost 100 tries, said they
are working hard to help come up with "belts and suspenders" language
that would make it crystal clear that the bill does not apply, though Schumer
told the New York Times that the bill even as it stands would "never grant
protection to a Web site like this one." But he added that he would take
the extra step to remove "even a scintilla of doubt."
The bill protects journalists and their sources from prosecutorial
overreach, and would be a federal protection mirroring laws or legal precedent
in virtually every state. A version has already passed the House, but the
Senate version is different and will be even more so if it is amended
again. That means the bills will have to be reconciled or the House will need
to revote the Senate version.