U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NYPD subpoenas journalist’s phone records in leak investigation

Incident Details

Date of Incident
July 14, 2020
New York, New York

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Third-party: AT&T (telecom company)
Legal Order Venue
July 14, 2020

The New York City Police Department subpoenaed a journalist’s cellphone records as part of a leak investigation, according to the reporter, who asked that their name not be disclosed, citing fear of harming relationships with sources, and a report by the New York Daily News.

On July 14, 2020, the New York-based freelancer who works for the Daily Mail received a letter stating that their phone records had been subpoenaed and used to question a police officer about his alleged contact with the reporter, according to the letter, which was seen by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The letter, which was sent to the reporter by the police officer’s lawyer, stated that the investigation related to leaked information about the arrest of actor Cuba Gooding Jr. in June 2019.

When the journalist’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, sought to obtain a copy of the subpoena from the journalist’s telecom provider, AT&T, the company refused, saying that they do not disclose subpoenas relating to criminal matters.

An NYPD official told the Daily News that the subpoena was issued before the department changed its regulations about acquiring journalists’ phone and social media records earlier this year.

When CPJ called the NYPD to ask about the department’s current policy on issuing subpoenas on journalists, the operator told CPJ to send an email requesting information. CPJ sent an email requesting additional information, but the NYPD did not respond.

In February, the NYPD withdrew a subpoena for data from the Twitter account of New York Post police bureau chief Tina Moore, that was issued under the Patriot Act as part of a leak investigation, as the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented at the time.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea later issued an apology for subpoenaing that information, according to an article from the Daily News.

When CPJ called the NYPD for comment, a representative told CPJ to send questions via email. CPJ emailed the police department but did not receive any response.

Jim Greer, AT&T’s assistant vice president for corporate communications, told CPJ in an email that, “Like all companies, we are required by law [to] comply with subpoenas from government and law enforcement agencies.”

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents subpoenas of journalistic work product or testimony by date the subpoena is issued. Until this subpoena is made available, however, we are logging it by date that the reporter became aware of its existence. That date, and how it affects our category count, may change in the future.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].