A newspaper does not have to turn over two reporters’ computers to the Pennsylvania attorney general, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
In a 20-page opinion issued Friday, the justices labeled as “unduly intrusive” the government’s attempt to seize the computers belonging to Lancaster Newspapers Inc. The company publishes the Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster New Era and Sunday News.
The opinion by Justice Thomas Saylor also noted the “potential chilling effect” taking reporters’ computers could have on sources providing confidential information.
The dispute arises from a probe begun last fall by the attorney general into Lancaster Coroner G. Gary Kirchner’s dealings with the press.
Authorities convened a grand jury to look into whether Kirchner gave Intelligencer Journal reporters his password to a part of the county’s Web site restricted to law enforcement and other authorized officials. No charges have been filed.
Investigators for Attorney General Tom Corbett seized four newsroom computers earlier this year. When the attorney general this summer obtained a subpoena to seize two more computers, the newspaper refused to abide by the order and was found in contempt, providing grounds for an appeal to the Supreme Court.