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Nexstar, Gray, Free Press Among Groups Criticizing DOJ on Journalist Raid

Broadcasters, tech policy groups and press freedom organizations said DOJ should explain a May FBI raid on an independent journalist, in an open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week. DOJ’s lack of transparency about the search and seizure…

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of computers and video equipment from journalist Timothy Burke’s home “leaves journalists unable to discern whether newsgathering activities they previously considered routine might trigger an investigation,” said the letter from Nexstar, Gray Television, Free Press, Tech Freedom, the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Media Institute, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and others. The warrant affidavit for the raid on Burke’s home is sealed, but it's believed to be connected to Burke’s obtaining and then circulating outtake footage from then-Fox News personality Tucker Carlson’s interview with musician Ye (formerly Kanye West) in 2022. Burke said he obtained the footage by using a demo account to download it from a public website where Fox had uploaded it without encryption. The demo account login came from another public website where the demo account holder had posted login information. The FBI said it raided Burke’s home on suspicion that he violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and wiretapping laws. “It would be extremely problematic -- and unconstitutional -- to criminalize access to publicly available information simply because powerful people would prefer it be kept private,” said the letter. “Prosecuting Burke under the CFAA for obtaining publicly available newsworthy materials implicates the First Amendment.” The government argued Burke isn’t entitled to protections under the DOJ’s policy for searches of news media because he hasn’t recently published under his own byline, doesn’t work for a news organization, and has used other job titles than journalist. “We are deeply concerned by the government’s attempts to minimize the import of the News Media Policy,” the letter said. “We implore the DOJ to release adequate information so that the public can understand the legal basis behind the seizure of Burke’s newsgathering materials and the processes that were followed to avoid undue interference with press freedom.”