SAN FRANCISCO – SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee denounces the San Francisco Police Department’s wide-ranging surveillance of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody. On May 31, Carmody disclosed yet another warrant that San Francisco police obtained on March 1, more than two months before they raided Carmody’s home and newsroom. Carmody has since disclosed two additional warrants that predated the May 10 raid. The warrants authorized San Francisco police to secretly collect and analyze Carmody’s cell phone data, including information on Carmody’s communications and location.

Police obtained the warrants in connection with their investigation into the leak of a police report about former Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s sudden death, in an apparent attempt to identify the confidential source who provided Carmody with the report. Taken together, the SFPD’s warrants and efforts to surveil a working journalist demonstrate a reckless disregard for press freedom, which appears to be even more egregious than had been previously known.

Further clouding the warrants’ legality is an open question of whether police told the issuing judges that Carmody is a journalist and, as a result, protected by California’s Shield law. (Materials that police submitted to obtain the warrants remain under seal; the case is back in front of a judge today.)

Journalists are in the business of making sure that accurate and important information reaches the public, and they often must form and protect confidential source relationships to do that work well. Californians have embraced this principle by enshrining protections for journalists in article I, section 2(b) of the state Constitution, as well as Evidence Code section 1070, Civil Code section 1986.1 and Penal Code section 1524(g). Warrants like those targeting Carmody’s cell phone records that allow clandestine surveillance of a journalist’s communications and movements severely undermine these long standing legal protections.

SPJ NorCal promised to investigate why the Police Department and the Court do not seem to have considered either the state or federal protections of journalists that apply to Carmody. To that end, SPJ NorCal, along with the First Amendment Coalition and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a motion to unseal the materials that the Police Department submitted to obtain the Carmody search warrants.

Consistent with SPJ’s role in upholding  journalistic norms and traditions, we intend to determine how and why these warrants were issued and apprise the public. That police would digitally surveil a journalist’s whereabouts and call history to identify an anonymous source is more fitting for a dystopian science fiction tale than modern day San Francisco.



Aaron Field and Matt Drange, SPJ NorCal Freedom of Information Committee co-chairs