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Silha Center Update

By Andrew Deutsch

This spring, the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law highlighted two topics very much in the news. The Silha Forum held in March focused on the rights of privacy in the digital age, and the April forum looked at the ethical and legal issues reporters face when dealing with confidential sources.

"The Constitution, Digital Media and Expectations of Privacy"

In the evolving world of digital media, constitutional and privacy rights have become murky, and in many instances, the growth in digital technology has outstripped legal standards, creating substantial uncertainty. That was at the heart of the Silha Center spring forum, entitled "The Constitution, Digital Media and Expectations of Privacy," held on March 9, 2005.

Stephen J. CribariThe forum, which was co-sponsored by the SJMC's Institute for New Media Studies, featured three speakers: Stephen J. Cribari, a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School; Dick Reeve, General Counsel and Deputy District Attorney for Computer Crimes at the Denver District Attorney's Office and adjunct professor at the University of Denver College of Law; and Mary Horvath, program manager and senior computer forensic examiner at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Stephen Cribari addressed constitutional issues, specifically focusing on the impact of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on digital evidence and privacy. Dick Reeve, who has been involved with criminal cases involving computer crimes and digital evidence, discussed the role of computer technology in cases that he has helped prosecute. Mary Horvath, an FBI expert on digital forensics, described practical aspects of the digital search and seizures mentioned by Reeve. She was quick to point out that even though Cribari suggested that police might have the legal authority to search and seize computers and e-mail without a warrant, layers of federal regulations, statutes, and other requirements are designed to make sure that the FBI adheres to specific rules in cases using digital evidence. The Forum was attended by approximately 40 students, faculty, and members of the local legal community.

"Confidential Sources: Where Ethics and Law Collide"

Reporters Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time are both facing possible jail time after being found in contempt of court for refusing to disclose their confidential sources in the ongoing government investigation into the leak of Central Intelligence Agency agent Valerie Plame's identity. None of the courts that have heard their cases have been willing to find a reporters' privilege that would shield them from having to testify to the grand jury investigating the leak. These issues were discussed at the spring forum sponsored by the Silha Center, entitled "Confidential Sources: Where Ethics and Law Collide," on April 27, 2005.

David KidwellThe event, which was cosponsored by both the national Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the local Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ, featured a three-person panel composed of David Kidwell, a reporter for The Miami Herald and a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize; Kerri Miller, the host of Minnesota Public Radio's "Midmorning" and a former investigative journalist; and Paul Hannah, a media lawyer who has defended journalists and publishers in confidential source cases. The event was moderated by Silha Professor Jane Kirtley.

Kidwell brought a unique perspective to the panel discussion, having served 15 days of a 70 day jail sentence after refusing to testify about a jailhouse interview he conducted with accused murderer John Zile in 1996. He faced opposition from journalist colleagues, and even from his own newspaper. "Don't ever let a publisher, an editor, or a media lawyer define your ethics," Kidwell told the audience. You need to define your ethics now."

Kerri Miller described the pressures that journalists can feel in doing their jobs, including from the sources themselves, especially in the political arena where they may provide tips to advance their own agenda. Divisions between reporters and their editors and managers can provide additional pressure, too, she added. "The real world [means] that most of the management does not want to pay legal fees [for reporters]. The last thing they want is a reporter to make a stand."

Hannah agreed with Miller: "There is always going to be tension - lots of tension - between the reporters, and their editors, and the managers because their interests are not the same." He added that courts often have difficulty resolving reporter's privilege issues, but questioned whether statutory shield laws are the appropriate remedy. The discussion was attended by approximately 90 students, faculty, and members of the local journalism community.

Silha Center events are designed to stimulate research and debate on topics related to the convergence of ethical and legal principles, media accountability, the First Amendment, and freedom of information. The Silha Center was established in 1984 with a generous endowment from Otto and Helen Silha.