Silencing Sources: An International Survey of Protections and Threats to Journalists’ Sources

Privacy International Global Survey Series

97 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2010

See all articles by David Banisar

David Banisar

London School of Economics, Department of Government; Governmental Accountability Project

Date Written: November 8, 2007


The first ever comprehensive global study of protection of journalists' sources has found that there is widespread legal recognition of the right around the world. Approximately 100 countries have adopted sources protection laws which allow journalists to keep promises to confidential sources that their identities will not be revealed.

The recognition of the need for legal protections has been growing. In the past few years, new laws have been adopted in many countries including Belgium, Mexico, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Angola, Luxembourg and El Salvador. It is now also recognized by nearly all major international bodies including the UN, Council of Europe, African Union, Organization for American States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The most significant problems are found in those countries lacking a specific law. The US, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland are noteworthy as having no specific legal protections. Many journalists have been fined or jailed for not revealing their sources.

However, in many jurisdictions, protections are being undermined by the regular use of search warrants on media offices and journalists' homes because few have specific legal protections on media-related searches. Protections are also being undercut in many countries by the use of legal and illegal surveillance. The adoption of “data retention” laws will seriously weaken protections by allowing authorities easy access to journalists communications data.

National security claims are also diminishing protections. There have been numerous cases where journalists have been arrested, prosecuted or harassed for disclosure of information under state secrets laws. New Anti-terrorism laws adopted in numerous countries have given authorities extensive powers to demand assistance from journalists, intercept communications, and gather information.

Keywords: Protection of Journalists' Sources, journalist privilege

JEL Classification: K14, K19

Suggested Citation

Banisar, David, Silencing Sources: An International Survey of Protections and Threats to Journalists’ Sources (November 8, 2007). Privacy International Global Survey Series, Available at SSRN: or

David Banisar (Contact Author)

London School of Economics, Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Governmental Accountability Project ( email )

1612 K Street, NW
Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20006
United States

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