A coalition of news publishers and two Internet industry trade associations filed friend-of-the-court briefs yesterday in Apple v. Does, urging the California Court of Appeal to protect the confidential sources of journalists and defend email privacy. On behalf of three online journalists, EFF is appealing the California Superior Court's earlier decision in the case, which allows Apple to subpoena a journalist's email in order to discover the source of information he published about a forthcoming Apple product code-named "Asteroid."
The news publishers argued that the trial court incorrectly allowed trade secret law to trump First Amendment rights, and that Apple has failed to exhaust all other alternative sources for the information it seeks before going after journalists' sources, as required by the reporter's privilege under the First Amendment. The brief was prepared by Grant Penrod of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and signers include the Associated Press, the California First Amendment Coalition, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Copley Press, Freedom Communications, Inc., Hearst Corp., Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Company, San Jose Mercury News, Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Student Press Law Center.
The US Internet Industry Association and NetCoalition, which represent Internet companies including Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, portals, and hosting services, also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. These trade associations argued that the journalist's email messages are protected under the federal Stored Communications Act. They further contend that if the trial court decision is not reversed, it will place an undue burden on service providers and will severely compromise email users' privacy. Elizabeth Rader of the law firm Akin Gump served as pro bono counsel to the Internet trade groups.
"The coalition of newspapers and media organizations recognized that the trial court's disregard for the First Amendment would broadly chill reporting by all journalists, regardless of medium," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.
"The Internet industry's support illustrates the widely accepted rule that email service providers are prohibited by federal law from disclosing users private email in civil disputes," added EFF Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works/Bruce J. Ennis Fellow Kevin Bankston.
Apple is suing several unnamed individuals called "Does," who allegedly leaked information about "Asteroid." Apple has subpoenaed Nfox, the ISP for PowerPage.com publisher Jason O'Grady, demanding that it turn over the communications and unpublished materials O'Grady obtained while he was gathering information for his articles about "Asteroid." Apple has also been granted permission to issue subpoenas directly to EFF's clients for similar information.
Attorney, Equal Justice Works / Bruce J. Ennis Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation