Should there be a source shield law?

In the US there is a move afoot to further protect press freedoms by extending protection of sources further.

It is an interesting discussion and one well worth having, especially where sources could suffer a clear and present danger to their well being from those who would seek to identify them.

Geoffrey R. Stone writes at The Daily Beast:

The press isn?t free if it has fear of prosecution for leaks. It?s time to give reporters the same type of privilege attorneys and doctors have.

The?Guardian?and?The?Washington Post?were each awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service Monday for their reporting based on classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. This will no doubt annoy many in the intelligence community who believe that Snowden,?The?Guardian, and the?Post?have done serious damage to the national security of the United States.

Unlike most disclosures of classified information, this reporting has not raised any central issues about the legitimacy or value of a journalist-source privilege, because Snowden chose to make no secret of his identity. Nonetheless, the bestowal of the Pulitzer Prize presents a good moment to reflect on the appropriate relationship between the government, the press, and source.

The issue is particularly timely at the moment because Gabriel Schoenfeld,?a senior fellow at theHudson Institute?and a former adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, recently published an article in the journal?National Affairs?in which he concludes that for Congress to enact a federal journalist-source privilege would be ?a bad idea.? Although I admire and respect Schoenfeld, in this, he is wrong.?

Should journalists have the same sorts of protections that doctors and lawyers have?

Suppose, for example, the client is charged with murder. He claims that he is innocent. His lawyer wants to know whether the client knew the victim. The client is afraid to admit this to the lawyer, however, for fear that his lawyer might be compelled to disclose this fact to the prosecution. But it is important for the lawyer to know this information, so she can properly and fully defend her client. The privilege is designed to enable the client to reveal this information to his lawyer without fear that the information might later be used against him. If the client would not have disclosed this fact to his lawyer without the assurance of the privilege, then the prosecution loses nothing by not being able to learn the information from the lawyer, because without the privilege the lawyer wouldn?t have known the information in the first place.

The journalist-source privilege works the same way. Suppose a congressional aide overhears a phone call in which a senator takes a bribe. The staff member is appalled and wants to reveal the senator?s misconduct. But she does not want to be known as a ?rat? or to be criticized or even fired for disclosing the information, so she is reluctant to report the incident. She contacts a reporter and asks whether she can tell him something in confidence. To her great relief, he assures her that, because of the journalist-source privilege, he can report the incident, which will enable both the public and the authorities to pursue the matter further, without revealing her name, even if a prosecutor or a grand jury wants him to do so. Without the privilege, the story would never have seen the light of day, but with the privilege the story gets out and the source remains anonymous.

All very sensible stuff I would have thought.