DOJ Ends Practice of Obtaining Reporters' Records, Says It 'Values a Free Press'

The U.S. Department of Justice announced it will cease its longtime controversial practice of secretly obtaining journalists' records during leak investigations, a move prompted by a recent pledge from President Joe Biden to end the investigative tactic.

Justice Department Spokesman Anthony Coley issued a statement Saturday that said the DOJ "will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs."

"The department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists," Coley added in a separate statement about the Justice Department move. White House administrations from both parties have long used subpoenas and court orders to obtain reporters' records in an effort to identify sources who may have revealed classified government information.

From Washington Post Executive Editor @SallyBuzbee pic.twitter.com/X1v0SgGM72

— Kristine Coratti Kelly (@kriscoratti) June 5, 2021

Last month, Biden said the investigative tactic was "simply, simply wrong" and vowed that his administration would not permit its continued practice.

The announcement Saturday comes just one day after The New York Times reported on their own legal battle with the Justice Department after it secretly seized data about four of the newspaper's reporters. The DOJ push for the emails of the four reporters began under the Trump administration and continued under Biden's

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday that the current administration was not aware that federal government officials had placed a gag order on The New York Times until Friday night. The gag order prevented them from revealing the ongoing court battle over the four reporters' emails.

The announcement prompted praise from news organizations, reporters and legal ethics analysts who have long criticized the practice as an infringement upon First Amendment rights.

"This means DOJ won't get reporter's records, secretly, in leak investigations. Good pro-1st amendment policy that promotes a free press. Biden's DOJ has been releasing information about what is arguably political abuse of the investigative tactic under Trump. Elections matter," tweeted University of Alabama Law School professor and MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Alene.

In a separate ongoing legal debate between the FBI and USA Today, federal investigators are demanding to know the internet addresses and mobile phone information of people who read an article during a specific 35-minute window of time. The publication has refused to comply with the FBI's demand as it looks into a February incident in Florida that left two FBI agents dead and three wounded, Politico reported Thursday.

The information being sought "relates to a federal criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI," according to a subpoena.

Newsweek reached out to the Justice Department and the White House for any additional remarks.

New York Times building
The New York Times Building is seen in New York City on February 4, 2021. DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images