Promising Confidentiality to Your Sources

What are the legal consequences if you promise confidentiality to a source? While your use of confidential sources should generally be the exception and not the rule (it’s almost always better to get something on the record and for attribution if you can), there are a number of reasons you might wish to promise a source confidentiality. For instance, some sources may only be willing to share information with you if you promise them confidentiality because they fear retaliation or other adverse consequences.

Access to Public Property

The U.S. Constitution protects your right to speak and, in some instances, grants you a right to access public places to gather information. Your right to access public property is not absolute, however. Generally speaking, you have the same right of access to public property as the general public.


If you enter private property without the owner's permission or enter portions of public property that are off limits to the public, you could be liable for civil or criminal trespass. For example, you may not walk into your neighbor's house uninvited, sneak into your congressperson's office, or pretend to be a public official to gain access to someone else's property.

Access to Private Property

You may wish to access another's private property in order to gatherinformation to publish online. However, while there are (rare)circumstances in which the law will condone your entry onto privateproperty without permission, in general you do not have any right to enter the private property of others without their consent. You should read this section in conjunction with the section on Trespass in order to understand the issue of consent.


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