June 15, 2018, Arlington, VA – Last week news broke the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had seized New York Times reporter Ali Watkins’ email and phone records. Though a series of activities have forecast the possibility of such an action, this marks the first known instance under the current administration. In April, the administration removed “press freedom” references from its manual for federal prosecutors. While the DOJ left substantive guidance on how to gather evidence in place, these edits send a clear and disturbing signal. Sarah Ruger, director of free expression at the Charles Koch Institute, today responded:
“Though the Justice Department worked with the media to write new guidelines for how the DOJ should secure evidence from journalists after the 2013 Associated Press wiretapping scandal, actual execution of those guidelines depends on the goodwill and integrity of the individuals running the department. And goodwill is currently in short supply.
“April’s change to the prosecutors’ manual, along with the seizure of Watkins’ information, portends additional leak investigations. These inquiries will have a deep and lasting effect on the press. Legal protections are necessary, but not sufficient, for a robust press, free expression, and other essential elements of an open and flourishing society. It is necessary to hold those in power accountable.”