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Media shield law has enough votes in Senate, Chuck Schumer says

“There is no First Amendment right for gathering information,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.

WASHINGTON — A supporter of a bill to protect reporters and the news media from having to reveal confidential sources said Friday the measure has the backing of the Obama administration and the support of enough senators to move ahead this year.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the number three Democrat in the Senate, spoke optimistically about prospects for the measure, identifying five Republicans who would join with Democrats and independents on a bill that he said would address a constitutional oversight.

While the Constitution protects freedom of the press, ‘‘there is no First Amendment right for gathering information,’’ Schumer said at The New York Times’s Sources and Secrets Conference on the press, government, and national security.


The bill was revived last year after the disclosure that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed almost two months’ worth of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for the Associated Press and secretly used a search warrant to obtain some e-mails of a Fox News journalist.

The Justice Department took the actions in looking into leaks of classified information to the news organizations. The AP received no advance notification of the subpoena.

A Senate vote on the measure is not expected until after April, however. Its prospects in the Republican-controlled House are uncertain.

Schumer discussed the bill’s provisions Friday and how, if it became law, it might affect journalist Glenn Greenwald, who reported on National Security Agency’s secret surveillance based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

‘‘It’s probably not enough protections to [cover] him, but it’s better than current law,’’ Schumer said.

The bill’s protections would apply to a ‘‘covered journalist,’’ defined as an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information. The individual would have to have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years.


It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a ‘‘covered journalist’’ who would be granted the privileges of the law.

While the definition covers traditional and online media, it draws the line at posts on Twitter, blogs, or other social media websites by nonjournalists.

The overall bill would protect reporters and news media organizations from being required to reveal the identities of confidential sources, but it does not grant an absolute privilege to journalists.