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AP Record Seizures' Impact on Future Journalists

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The U.S. government has been under much scrutiny lately because of the possible illegality in the seizure of Associated Press (AP) records. But how does the seizure impact future journalists?

If you are not familiar with the issue, on May 10th AP was notified that the government had taken two months worth of records from 21 separate phone lines.

AP CEO said on Face the Nation that the issue isn't the government's right to take the records, but the way they did it. He suggested the seizure was done secretively, abusively, harassingly, and it was overboard. Because of that, it should be seen as an "unconstitutional act."

Pruitt said the impact his journalists are already feeling, and future journalists will feel, is a source's reluctance to talk.

"I really don't know what [the governments] motive is," Pruitt said. "I know what the message being sent is, 'If you talk to the press, we're [going to] go after you.'"

Ben Whisenant, adjunct professor of Mass Communication Law at the University of Utah and lawyer, coined this term as the "chilling effect." He explained that the chilling effect would happen because a source fears legal ramification, potential fallout, employment issues or other concerns.

Another obstacle Pruitt mentioned is that the government has restricted the news-gathering apparatus because of the chilling effect. The result will be that the public will only know what the government wants them to know.

Although AP suggested they will pursue some kind of legal action, Whisenant doesn't believe the government actually did anything illegal -- it was just immoral. Therefore, he suggests future journalists protect their sources by rarely, if ever, offering up confidentiality.

Potential sources and future journalists may be reassured by the legal laws already in place to protect a writer's privacy, such as state shield laws, the Constitutional Reporters Privilege and the First Amendment.

To stop this apprehension of records from happening in the future, Congress has already proposed a new law. Additionally, President Obama discussed implementing a Federal Shield Law during his address on May 23rd.

By Lauren Deane, University of Utah