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Newspaper’s Computers Seized

Free speech issues are now 6-21 in the courts this year.

PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has seized four computer hard drives from a Lancaster newspaper to investigate leaks to reporters, and the state Supreme Court last week told the state to go ahead.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal’s claim that the seizure violates the First Amendment and Pennsylvania shield laws, freeing the attorney general to extract data from the hard drives to see if reporters obtained information from the Lancaster County coroner, who is suspected of giving his password to a law enforcement Web site to reporters. The Intelligencer allegedly used information from the site in articles, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The Intelligencer’s attorney told the Inquirer that if the reporters used the site, it was because Coroner Gary Kirchner gave them his password and permission to use it. Kirchner told the Inquirer that he had not done that, “to my knowledge.” The paper’s editor was compelled to testify to a grand jury in February. The state told a Harrisburg judge that to search the reporters’ hard drives it needed to take them to a government lab in Harrisburg, the Inquirer reported. The judge, Barry Feudale, said the government could seize the hard driver but could only look at Internet data relevant to the case, and ordered the state to show him the data before handing it over to prosecutors. First Amendment attorneys told the Inquirer it is the first case they have heard of in which the government seized a newspaper’s hard drives.

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