Biden administration used subpoena to obtain Guardian phone number in early 2020

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Biden administration used subpoena to obtain Guardian phone number in early 2020

A subpoena that was used by the US justice department to obtain details of a Guardian reporter's phone number was issued by the Biden administration within the opening weeks of Joe Biden's presidency.

In a statement to the Guardian, the justice department's inspector general s office confirmed that the subpoena was issued in February 2021, shortly after Biden entered the White House. The action was taken in an effort to find out the identity of an alleged leaker who was suspected of revealing to news outlets details of an investigation into the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the southern US border.

On Thursday, it emerged that the DoJ had secretly used a subpoena to confirm the phone number of Stephanie Kirchgaessner, the Guardian's investigations correspondent. She had been the author of two reports in 2020 that revealed sensitive aspects of child separation policy, including that Donald Trump's then deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein had given the green light for children of any age to be removed from their parents.

The leak inquiry had straddled the Trump and Biden administrations, so it was not clear what the administration had been responsible for issuing the subpoena. The inspector general's office of the DoJ has clarified that the move was made under the Biden administration.

Logan stressed that the subpoena did not request, and investigators didn't receive, the content of communications to or from the account holder's phone number or any other details of the phone account.

The revelation of the use of a subpoena to confirm a Guardian reporter's phone number in a case that involved no national security concerns or classified information provoked strong criticism. The Guardian's editor-in-chief Katharine Viner called the DoJ's action an infringement of press freedom and public interest journalism In July 2021, the DoJ under Biden s newly appointed attorney general Merrick Garland announced a new policy that would restrict the use of compulsory process to obtain information from the news media acting within the scope of news gathering activities. Advocates for increased federal protections for the press have complained that there has been little support from the Biden administration for stronger shield laws.

In the summer of last summer, Ron Wyden, the US Senator from Oregon, introduced new legislation to protect reporters from unnecessary government surveillance as a result of revelations about the Trump administration's heavy-handed surveillance of journalists at CNN, the New York Times and other outlets. At the time of his press conference, Wyden told the Freedom of the Press Foundation he had tried to enlist the support of the Justice Department for his new Press Act, but officials within the Biden administration didn't engage.