NEFAC Argues for First Amendment Safeguards, Journalist Protection in Cell Phone Tracking Case

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called for rigorous application of Fourth Amendment protections when the government seeks historical cell site location information, arguing that such data “can provide an intimate picture of an individual’s political, professional, and religious association” and “reveal details about the newsgathering process, including reporters’ communications with their sources.”

NEFAC joined 19 media organizations and press advocates in an Aug. 14 amicus brief drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case Carpenter v. United States.

The case involves the use of warrantless seizures and searches of cell phone records that reveal the movements and location of the phone’s user over an extended period of time. The release of this data can be particularly harmful to journalists because it can reveal sensitive information such as where and when meetings with confidential sources are taking place.

NEFAC and fellow amici argued in the brief that:

“Confidentiality is a critical component of the reporter-source relationship, and effective newsgathering depends on an expectation of privacy in the location, time, and duration of those confidential meetings and communications. Communicating with confidential sources is a core journalistic practice and a necessary feature of investigative journalism. The confidentiality of these in-person meetings is compromised when law enforcement can obtain information about journalists’ or sources’ whereabouts without a warrant. “

The U.S. Supreme Court previously found that where a search “may be protected by the First Amendment, the requirements of the Fourth Amendment must be applied with ‘scrupulous exactitude.’” As such, amici argued, greater procedural safeguards need to be established to satisfy the Fourth Amendment and protect the fundamental activities implied by the First Amendment.

NEFAC regularly drafts and joins amicus briefs to defend First Amendment freedoms. Most recently, the coalition argued for immediate access to civil court documents, access to private email accounts under Vermont’s public records law, the right to record police activity and the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.