9.1.10 Shield Laws

Apple isn’t just control-freakish with its hardware. It’s one of the most secretive companies in the world. In 2004, claiming trade secrets had been violated, Apple Inc. sued several internal “John Does”—employees who’d leaked product information to several websites—and demanded that the sites turn over details on where they had gotten the information. At the request of lawyers working for those sites (I was not paid), I declared in legal documents that in my expert opinion the sites were doing a form of journalism protected under California law. Several courts agreed, and the online journalists were not required to turn over the information.

California is one of many states with shield laws for journalists and confidential sources. Importantly, in the Apple case, the courts understood that even if the websites weren’t doing traditional journalism, it was journalism nonetheless.

As of this writing, we still don’t have a federal shield law, though one is making its way through Congress. But when and if it does pass, I hope it will protect journalism, in whatever form that takes—not the people we call journalists.

Having said all this about shield laws, I want to stress again that anonymous sources make me queasy. You may someday need to shield someone from harmful exposure, but you will be exposing yourself to challenges from common-sense readers who ask why your source didn’t have the courage to speak on the record.

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