Ars Technica reported late last night that the Free Flow of Information Act, which would grant protection of sources and documents at a federal level to journalists, including professional bloggers, easily passed the US House of Representatives by a vote of 398-21. The bill, which was cosponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), still may never become a law should it reach President Bush's desk.
According to Ars, the Bush administration views the FFIA "as carte blanche to leak government information without penalty," and released a statement yesterday in opposition citing the "overriding imperative to protect national security," as a reason for their objection to the measure.
As Ars Technica notes, though the FFIA would would extend coverage to professional bloggers as journalists, the definition of "journalist" would likely be debated at length in court. Ars writer Nate Anderson recalls Apple's lawsuit against AppleInsider and PowerPage a few years ago over a product breach, in which case Apple claimed that bloggers were not journalists. What makes a journalist and what makes a professional blogger are finer points of the bill that would be up to the courts to interpret.
It should certainly be noted, though, that most major mainstream news organizations now employ full time bloggers and have detailed blogging strategies implemented on their web sites. Further, top news organizations like USA Today, Reuters and Fox are licensing blog content through BlogBurst for their publications. So it follows that at least some bloggers are firmly operating in the realm of traditional journalists and should enjoy the same shield protection.
The Senate will be considering a similar bill.
What do you think? Should bloggers be treated as journalists? Should any journalists have shield protection to allow them to keep their sources and notes private? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.