New Hampshire Court Rules Web Site Covered By Shield Law

Digital rights advocates are cheering a decision issued today by the New Hampshire Supreme Court stating that an online news site devoted to covering the mortgage industry is covered by the state's reporter's shield law.

The decision stems from an incident in August of 2008, when the site, run by Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, published a summary of loans held by The Mortgage Specialists, based in New Hampshire.

Unhappy with the publication of its information, The Mortgage Specialists sought a court order forcing Implode to reveal the identity of the person who leaked the document. The company also sought an order forcing Implode to remove the document.

New Hampshire has a shield law stating that journalists can protect the identity of their sources, but a trial judge nonetheless ruled that the site didn't have "the right to protect the identity of someone who has provided it with unauthorized" information. The judge also issued an injunction requiring the site to remove the document -- despite the fact that most courts say that ordering news organizations to remove information is unconstitutional.

Today, in a sweeping ruling, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the trial judge on both counts. "The fact that Implode operates a website makes it no less a member of the press," the court wrote. "Implode's website serves an informative function and contributes to the flow of information to the public. Thus, Implode is a reporter for purposes of the newsgathering privilege."

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