SSCI’s Cybersecurity Bill Would Chill News Reporting

NNA News:

By RICK BLUM / The Sunshine in Government Initiative

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA), released as a draft by Chairman Dianne Feinstein June 17 and soon to be considered by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, would threaten the flow of accurate news and information to the public and policymakers.

The bill would allow government agencies to collect, without a warrant or other traditional legal process, journalists’ phone and other records if the government considers the journalists or their sources threats to the security of information stored on computer networks.

In a letter sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee June 26, the Sunshine in Government Initiative pointed out that this overbroad proposal to address cybersecurity threats chills newsgathering based on confidential sources, removes meaningful judicial oversight, ignores carefully crafted legislation dealing with confidential sources, and places the careful balancing of vital democratic interests in the hands of the executive branch and private industry. National Newspaper Association (NNA) and other top news organizations compose the SGI, which lobbies on behalf of Freedom of Information and free press issues.

“In sum, CISA would enable the federal government to do an end-run around the Constitution and existing privacy laws,” we wrote.

“Freedoms are like stone. Strong. Secure. But they can be eroded, drop by drop, by ill-advised legislation like this that could thwart one of the cornerstones of democracy: oversight by a free press,” said NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of The Blackshear (GA) Times. “We hope Congress will stop to consider the dramatic consequences CISA could have on the protections offered by a vigorous, inquiring and independent press.”

Absent the protections found in strong judicial oversight, legal standards and prior notice requirements, federal investigators and prosecutors could easily obtain the communications records of journalists and their confidential sources, thereby creating an impermissible chilling effect on newsgathering […]

We recognize and appreciate the government’s responsibility to secure the nation from cyber attacks. However, the bill as proposed steps across lines drawn by the nation’s founders and inhibits newsgathering and the flow of accurate information to the public.

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