Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law Senate Bill 558, a bill mandating that reporters and their news organizations be given five days’ notice of any subpoenas of their records held by others.
Those records include phone calls or other invasions of their newsgathering communications.
The author of SB 558 is state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey), a former editor in chief of the Law Review at Georgetown University Law Center, sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Lieu said he decided to seek legislation after reports earlier this year that the federal government had secretly collected the phone records of the Associated Press by going after third-party vendors, such as phone companies, Internet-service providers, hotels and car rental firms.
“The government has shown on some occasions a disregard for freedom of the press,” Lieu said. “(The Legislature’s) bipartisan vote makes it clear: California will protect the First Amendment.”
The wiretaps of Associated Press reporters’ phone call records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the wire service during a two-month period.
Lieu said his measure specifically applies to third-party vendors.
“SB 558 will ensure that reporters will be able to continue to deliver to readers solid investigative stories about government activities without fear that officials can tiptoe around the reporters’ shield law to access their sources and notes from the Cloud or cell phone providers,” said Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspapers Association, which sponsored the bill.
The state senator said he is proud California already had a shield law that requires law enforcement to give five days’ advance notice to news organizations for subpoenas served on the actual news company or reporter.
But the U.S. Department of Justice gave a roadmap on ways to bypass the shield law by going after firms like telephone or communications companies that have personal and work-related information of journalists, Lieu said.
The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.