News organizations in Seattle have been ordered by a judge to hand over photographs and videos to the Seattle Police Department to aid investigations into alleged arson of police vehicles and theft of police weapons.
The judge set what some regard as a dangerous precedent that threatens to bring the free press into the domain of a surveillance state.
As reported by the Seattle Times, the Seattle Police Department successfully subpoenaed five Seattle-based news outlets whose reporters were covering events at a protest that took place on May 30th. Typically, unpublished material is protected and not available to law enforcement. King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee decided that the Police Department were justified in their request to access the photographs and footage, but must demonstrate that they have exhausted all other means of inquiry. The police will not have access to material captured on reporters’ mobile phones.
The five news outlets — Seattle Times and TV stations KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO 4 and KCPQ 13 — are expected to appeal the decision.
News organizations may now fear that in the future judges will be able to decide which information their reporters will be forced to turn over to authorities. Furthermore, as observed by Seattle Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores, such a move undermines the independence of the press and might put journalists at risk while reporting.
Lead image by Damien Conway, used under Creative Commons.