There is still contention over the definition of the word journalist, and concerns that any attempt to enshrine reporters’ privilege could make those that don’t fit precisely even more vulnerable. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and many conservative pundits have opposed the bill on the basis it could disadvantage bloggers and other non-traditional journalists. It also has an exception for situations involving future threats to national security.
The news organizations supporting the bill note that it has a “safety valve” for bloggers and others who might slip through the cracks, because it allows a judge to declare someone a covered journalist. “This bill has judicial oversight, that extra person to say that if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it’s a duck,” Cuillier said.
If it’s near impossible for sources to contact journalists securely because of mass surveillance – while already in a climate where whistleblowers are likely to be aggressively hunted down – we may see this flow of information between source and journalist run dry. Scandals like those that have emerged over the past year will never come to light, and we’ll be kept in the dark as to what our governments are actually up to, with no opportunity to question or challenge their actions. This affects everyone, including those comfortable with mass surveillance.
By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”