The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has fired off a letter of protest [PDF] to Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding Wednesday?s seizure and erasure of reporters? recordings of a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Excerpt:
The actions taken by the federal marshals not only violate fundamental tenets of press, but directly violate the law set forth in the Privacy Protection Act, 42 U.S.C.? 2000aa ((a),which states that government officers and employees investigating a criminal offense may not ?search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.?
This statute makes clear that it is the policy of the U.S. government to provide special protections for the press against searches and seizures by law enforcement personnel, except in limited circumstances. The exceptions allow federal officers to search and seize materials from members of the news media only when a member of the press has committed a crime unrelated to the possession or withholding of the materials or where there is a necessity to prevent death or serious bodily injury.
The letter also argues that the actions violated Justice Department guidelines that approval from the Attorney General himself is required before compelling a journalist to cough up material.