Google FTC Decision Inspires Lawmaker to Seek Probe Into News Leaks

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-01-08 Print this article Print

The multiple news leaks that occurred during the Google FTC proceedings should not have happened, says U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa.

A spokesman in Wilson's office told eWEEK that the FTC had received the letter, but would not comment further on it.

Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, a nonprofit educational group focused on First Amendment issues, said that requests for probes after press leaks have been around as long as governments have been in existence.

"Historically, there's been a tension between government, which often doesn't want anything to come out except for what they want to be known, and the press," Policinski told eWEEK. "This is not a new issue."

What is new today, though, is that the Obama administration has ramped up attempts to prosecute whistleblowers as tensions continue to build due to the added issues of national security and leaks, he said.

Often members of the media are getting their news leaks from government officials who are driven by their consciences rather than by orders, said Policinski.

When such leaks happen, the government typically goes after the people who do the leaking rather than pursuing the journalists who published the supposedly secret information, he said. "That's the path our government has followed for over 200 years."

At the same time, there is no federal shield law that protects a journalist from prosecution or other consequences if they publish information that is not made public, he said. "So as a journalist, if you are summoned before a federal panel your options are to make a decision on whether or not to disclose your sources and take your chances."

Issa's letter to the FTC is not a complete surprise in light of how things have changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America in regard to national security, the press and news leaks, said Policinski.

"Clearly what we are seeing now is a renewed effort for government to police itself, with some truly draconian penalties" being faced by federal whistleblowers, such as a possible loss of federal pensions and increased criminal penalties, to try to stop such news leaks, he said.

"In the current climate, I don't think this is a request just for show," said Policinski. "This request is part of a pattern of really seriously trying to prosecute these folks."

Could such an effort ultimately be successful and could the alleged leakers ever be caught and prosecuted in connection with the Google probe?

"First, they'd have to identify the leaker and if the reporter or reporters don't identify them it makes it hard," he said. "With electronic communications, however, it may be easier to track this information than it was in the past. In this climate, there's an increased willingness to pursue people who leak information. It was perhaps more show in the past."


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel