Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering enacting a shield law that would allow at least some bloggers to protect the identity of their sources.
The Free Flow of Information Act would prohibit judges from ordering members of the news media to divulge their sources. The current version of the bill appears to be drafted broadly enough to protect many bloggers, as well as reporters for more traditional media.
The prospective law defines news media as entities "in the regular business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public by any means."
While some judges in Massachusetts have ruled that journalists may protect their sources, that principle is not yet codified. Judges also don't apply the principle consistently, says Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.
Ambrogi, who plans to testify in favor of the bill at a hearing on Tuesday, says the measure could encourage whistleblowers to expose problems. "We know about the famous stories -- the Watergates, the confidential sources who came forward about Abu Ghraib," he says. "What we don't know about are the stories where whistleblowers are too afraid to come forward."
Most states have shield laws, but many predate the Internet. This situation has led to some high-profile court battles centered on whether bloggers can be forced to reveal the identities of their sources.
Results have been mixed.
In California, an appeals court ruled several years ago that the state's shield law applies to bloggers, as well as journalists who work for mainstream media outlets.
But a judge in Illinois ruled in January that blog TechnoBuffalo had to disclose the identity of the source who sent in photos of a Motorola Droid Bionic smartphone before it was released. Although Illinois has a shield law, the judge ruled that it didn't apply to TechnoBuffalo. "While TechnoBuffalo's web site may have over a million viewers, it fails to show it qualifies as a 'news medium,'" the judge wrote. "TechnoBuffalo's anonymous 'tipster' is hardly an example of a 'source' of investigative journalism," the judge added.