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Thursday, December 13, 2007

St. Paul Police Department skirts state shield law

There's a chill in the air, and it's not that Alberta Clipper.

The St. Paul Police Department's recent move to secure a reporter's phone records is much colder.

The police department recently obtained KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden's cell phone records after he received a police report — a public document, mind you — from an unnamed source.

Why does this matter? Because Minnesota and several other states have recognized the need to protect confidential sources — via the shield law — as a way to ensure a free and vibrant press. Who would talk to a reporter if they knew a snooping government official could hunt down and punish them?

The Associated Press originally reported that Lyden's phone records were secured through an administrative subpoena, but the Ramsey County Attorney's Office has said it never signed off on such a request.

That leaves a warrant, which unlike an administrative subpoena, requires a judge's signature.

Now, I could write a long-winded treatise on how this situation creates a potentially serious chilling effect on the press. But apparently, decades of case law and legislative action haven't impressed the people involved.

So I've taken a different approach — perhaps this will get through:

(click for larger image)

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