The new guidelines come after a firestorm of protest involving two episodes in the hunt for government leakers: a secret Justice Department subpoena of almost two months of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press and the use of a secret warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist.
The Justice Department said it will now create a “News Media Review Committee” to advise its top officials when the department seeks media-related records in investigations.
Among other things, the government will have to give advance notice to the news media about subpoena requests for reporters' phone records unless the attorney general determines that "for compelling reasons" such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the leak investigation.
"It is expected that only the rare case would present the attorney general with the requisite compelling reasons to justify a delayed notification," the Justice Department report issued Friday said.
Also under the new guidelines, the government will issue search warrants directed at a reporter's email only when that reporter is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities.