New guide helps journalists know their rights when police come knocking

Seth Stern

Director of Advocacy

Police failed to mention federal and state protections against newsroom raids when applying for a warrant to seize equipment from the Marion County Record.

Kansas Reflector/Sherman Smith. Used with permission. Original image available at

When police applied for a warrant to raid the Marion County Record, they didn’t bother mentioning the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 — a federal law that largely bans newsroom seizures. They claimed afterwards that they knew about the PPA but didn’t think it applied (we have our doubts). And the judge who issued the warrant was apparently clueless about the law.

Authorities in Marion are far from the only ones to ignore the PPA. We noted earlier this year that police in Asheville, North Carolina, neglected to mention it when they applied for a warrant to search a journalist’s phone. And federal prosecutors are struggling to explain how the FBI raid of journalist Tim Burke’s Florida home could have complied with the PPA.

It’s a real problem that law enforcement and judges seem so confused (at best) about such an important press freedom law. It’s crucial that journalists themselves know their rights, especially when the government doesn’t. That’s why Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) collaborated with the First Amendment Foundation on a guide covering journalists’ rights under the PPA (and state shield laws), as well as how journalists should respond if police knock on their doors or otherwise attempt to seize their newsgathering equipment.

You can read and download the guide below.

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