Analisa Torres, a federal judge from the Southern District of New York, made the right call last week in ordering the Department of Justice to stop the “extraction and review” of contents from two cellphones belonging to Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe.
This order followed a raid on O’Keefe’s home and that of two of his colleagues presumably to learn the identities of “tipsters” who gave the conservative journalist access to the diary of President Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden. The FBI launched a pre-dawn raid on O’Keefe’s home, handcuffed him and removed his electronic devices.
O’Keefe told Fox News:
“They confiscated my phone. They raided my apartment. On my phone were many of my reporters’ notes, a lot of my sources unrelated to this story and a lot of confidential donor information to our news organization.”
O’Keefe acknowledges Project Veritas was given the diary, but insists he had no idea that the diary was stolen. He also maintains that he had turned it over to law enforcement, sought to turn it over to a lawyer for Ms. Biden, and had not published its contents.
Provided that O’Keefe is telling the truth that he or his colleagues were not involved in skullduggery behind the theft of a diary, his actions were no different from that of many other journalists. ACLU, which is no admirer of O’Keefe and said a reasonable observer could question if Project Veritas’s activities are journalism, nevertheless condemned the actions of the FBI as bad precedent. ACLU’s Brian Hauss wrote:
"Unless the government had good reason to believe that Project Veritas employees were directly involved in the criminal theft of the diary, it should not have subjected them to invasive searches and seizures."
The same justification for rifling through physical or digital files in this case could have been made for any number of award-winning investigative works by The Washington Post and The New York Times, where anonymous sources provided access to information. Perhaps with this in mind, Times media columnist Ben Smith tweeted: “Don’t think journalists should be cheerleading this one.”
Whatever one thinks of O’Keefe and his gonzo journalism from the right, the heavy-handed surveillance of any journalist is a deterrent to reporting, prior restraint inimical to the First Amendment by misusing the Fourth.