Newsgathering and Privacy

This section of the legal guide highlights the legal and practical issues you may encounter as you gather documents, take photographs or video, and collect other information. Many of the subjects discussed in this section are relevant whether or not you eventually publish the information you gather. (See the section on Risks Associated With Publication in this guide for information on your potential liability when publishing.)

So, where to start?

  • If you need to physically venture to public or private places in order to gather information, you should review the section on Entering the Property of Others, which outlines your rights to access public and private property and provides some guidance on how to avoid legal liability for trespass.

  • If you anticipate that you will be acquiring private information about someone or will need to gather information in places where a person would reasonably expect privacy, you should review the section on Gathering Private Information, which outlines various privacy laws that may limit your ability to gather such information.

  • If you plan to use a recording device, whether it's a camera, video recorder, or microphone, you should review the section on Recording Phone Calls, Conversations, Meetings and Hearings, which discusses federal and state laws relating to the use of recording devices in specific private and quasi-public settings.

  • If you plan to rely on documents or other tangible property, you should review the section on Acquiring Documents and Other Property, which addresses the laws affecting your ability to gather documents and other property that belongs to others, including the government.

  • If you plan to report on or document political events and election activities, you should review the section on Documenting Public Proceedings and Events, which explains your rights to access and document what occurs at polling places on Election Day and at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.

  • If you expect to deal with confidential sources or just want to understand your right to protect your newsgathering and source materials, you should review the section on Protecting Sources and Source Material, which addresses the legal challenges in maintaining the confidentiality of sources and source material and discusses the federal and state laws that may protect you from forced disclosure of your newsgathering materials.

In addition to the sections listed above, you may want to review the Access to Government Information topic area in this guide. It covers the wide range of information available from federal, state, and local government sources.

We've also created a short video addressing some of the newsgathering and privacy issues you are likely to face as you head out with camera in hand to cover the news: