Apparently the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security need to be swatted on their noses with a rolled-up Constitution:
Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshals Service.
Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland Security’s Coast Guard service, made a pre-dawn raid of her family home Aug. 6 and took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents, some of which chronicled her sources and her work at The Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.
The warrant, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.
The Times said it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.
“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said. “This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.
“Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters’ notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response,” he said.
Oh, they didn’t say they were looking for reporters’ notes and records, but they took some anyway? Guess what, folks. That’s about as clear-cut a case of unconstitutional behavior as you can get. The Fourth Amendment reads, in its entirety: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In other words, you can’t go in saying you’re looking for a gun and just seize a reporter’s notes and (legally obtained) records.
I’m not even going to start on how unlikely it is to be a coincidence that the same federal agency that has come off looking bad in this reporter’s work was the one undertaking the raid. I’m just going to stick with the facts. And the facts are that EVEN IF reporter Audrey Hudson’s husband, Paul Flanagan, had the gun in question (and he has not been charged wtih a crime, remember), officials had no basis in the world for confiscating anything relevant to her work.
I rag on the Washington Times for being a crappy news outlet because, well, it generally is. But crappy or not, no U.S. news outlet — indeed, no American — is supposed to be treated this way. It’s right there in the Fourth Amendment. Some Maryland state police and DHS officials need to be fired and prosecuted over this. Denial of civil rights under color of law is a crime, and this crap is going to keep happening until cops start going to prison. I’m delighted that the Times is suing, but it needs to pressure the hell out of both the county DA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the officials involved.