Audrey Hudson Wins Settlement in Reporter Privacy Rights Case

September 30, 2014

Settlement vindicates privacy protections for reporters and their confidential news sources

WASHINGTON, DC — September 30, 2014 – Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP today announced a settlement on behalf of former Washington Times investigative reporter Audrey Hudson against several federal security agencies that illegally seized reporting materials during the execution of a search warrant in an unrelated case.  As part of the settlement, official assurances were provided to improve the protection for all newsgathering materials seized under future warrants.

“The important thing about this settlement is that we did not let the government’s invasion of my privacy stand.  We defended the rights of journalists to protect their sources from discovery by government security agencies, and that’s a victory for all journalists,” said Ms. Hudson. “I am grateful for the assistance of my former employer the Washington Times, my team of lawyers, and all of those who stood with us during this long ordeal.”

Ms. Hudson, whose reporting has focused on the Federal Air Marshal Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security, learned in September 2013 that federal agents had seized some of her newsgathering files in an earlier search of her home.  The seized files contained confidential notes, draft articles, and other newsgathering materials that were clearly protected under the federal Privacy Protection Act, which limits the government’s ability to seize reporters’ work product, even during the execution of an otherwise valid search warrant.  If misused and disseminated, the seized files could have disclosed the identities of whistleblowers within the government who had agreed to speak to Ms. Hudson on a confidential basis.

“The government has bent over backwards to assure us that the seizure of Ms. Hudson’s notes was just an error of judgment, not part of any organized effort to identify her sources,” said Ms. Hudson’s lawyer, Mark Grannis of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP.  “We hope that by bringing this claim we have helped to raise awareness within the government that reporters’ notes are legally protected from seizure in all but the most exceptional cases.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the United States supplied Ms. Hudson and her former employer, the Washington Times, with official assurances that all of the seized documents had been returned, that no copies of the seized documents had been made, and that all notes made based on review of the seized documents would be destroyed except for a single copy covered by a judicial protection order for a three-year period.  In addition, the government agreed that the Director of the Coast Guard Investigative Service would initiate an internal review and analysis of training and policy related to the Privacy Protection Act.

About Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis

Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP is a nationally recognized communications, information technology, international investment/national security, and litigation law firm. The firm’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, investors, trade associations, and non-profit organizations. As former senior government officials, federal prosecutors, Congressional counsel, and experienced litigators, HWG lawyers advise their clients on how government decision makers think, how legal and political institutions work in the real world, and how those institutions can affect a transaction or business plan. For more information, please visit www.hwglaw.com.

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