By Brad Friedman on 3/5/2005, 5:05pm PT  

We were contacted this morning by a reporter from The NY Times seeking comment on the recent preliminary ruling by California judge which says that "bloggers should not have the same protection afforded to journalists under US law." The case, as reported by the BBC, has been brought by Apple computers against three different blogs who leaked info about products in development.

While we hadn't yet read up on that particular case, we were obviously able to speak from experience about our concerns of bloggers being forced to disclose sources. We have been given information from several sources on the condition that their identities would be protected since they consider that their lives could be in potential danger if they were to be exposed.

We believe our work here clearly demonstrates the need to protect the identity of such sources. Though, in truth, as discussed here recently when we "joked" that "our earlier shameless plea for donations" might soon turn into "a necessary collection for the official BRAD BLOG Legal Defense Fund" it may not be such a "joke" after all! "Real" "journalists" --- even those from The NY Times --- may not have the protection against revealing their sources that most people believe. And a few of them may soon be heading to jail in order to fight for that potentially-disappearing right.

And as if that is not troubling enough, take a look at this troubling interview on CNET with Federal Election Commissioner, Bradley Smith entitled "The coming crackdown on blogging".

It's a chilling interview really, so please give it a quick read. But what it seems to say is that unless legislation is passed quickly by Congress to rework the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law, the FEC may soon be forced to regulate blogs such as ours and regard even links to campaign websites as "campaign contributions"!

If we read the article correctly, it would seem to be Democrats on the FEC whose votes may keep the FEC from fighting a recent court decision that removes the exemption from such regulation for Internet websites and blogs (we're attempting to get clarification on that point).

In the meantime, who else but Congressman John Conyers is the first brave legislator out of the box to state his unambiguous objection to this potential coming nightmare. In a draft letter to the FEC Chairman and Commissioners he responded quickly yesterday by writing:

...we urge you to remove any ambiguity and make explicit in this rule that a blog would not be subject to disclosure requirements, campaign finance limitations or other regulations simply because it contains political commentary or includes links to a candidate or political party's website, provided that the candidate or political party did not compensate the blog for such linking.
...
The past decade has witnessed exponential growth of the Internet, as well as in the number of Americans accessing the World Wide Web. Along with this growth has been the emergence of Web reporters more commonly known as "bloggers" who play a critical role in commentating on American political affairs and who seek to inform the debate in an environment that is generally accessible by all.

In our view, this "democratization" of the media is a welcome development in this era of media consolidation and a corresponding lack of diversity of views in traditional media outlets. Given the emergence of this new method of reporting and Americans' increasing reliance on it for their political information, it is critical that BCRA's press exemption should be clarified to apply to those who are solely reporting on the Internet.

Conyers to the rescue again!

Until recently, we had felt that any attempts to regulate blogging or "The Internets" would be quickly found unconstitutional even if mandated by legislative action. We didn't really take such a potential threat to our freedoms particularly seriously. However, the increasing number of news items on this matter pointing towards legislation and court-decisions leaning towards regulation has made us think twice about our previous position on it, and about what may lie ahead...