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The End of the Affair: Can the Relationship Between Journalists and Sources Survive Mass Surveillance and Aggressive Leak Prosecutions?
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-04-22, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2021.1893100
Anthony L. Fargo

One mission of the institutional media, recognized by journalists and judges alike, is to uncover the government’s secrets. This mission often involves obtaining information from sources who would face perils if identified. Journalists have historically risked legal penalties to protect sources’ identities, but now surveillance technology allows investigators to unmask leakers through their communication records. Meanwhile, the last two presidential administrations expanded efforts to prosecute leakers of classified information. This article examines the increasingly risky atmosphere for journalists and sources and whether the reporter-source relationship can survive the risks. After examining recent leak prosecutions and the troubling legal and ethical issues they raise, the article concludes that legal solutions are unlikely. However, journalists can combat chilling effects on sources by making source protection a higher ethical priority and by proactively guiding sources to ways they can avoid detection.