Costa Rica’s Sala Constitucional (Constitutional Court) on Friday ruled unconstitutional the actions of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) and the Fiscalía (Attorney General) in trying to learn the sources of a reporter.
The magistrates ruled unanimously in favour of an appeal by the Grupo Extra, filed in January when the OIJ and AG searched through the telephone calls of Diaro Extra reporter, Manuel Rodríguez Estrada, as part of an investigation against a police official Fonseca, accused of leaking confidential police information.
In its ruling, the Court said the OIJ and the AG’s office could not use information obtained from the records search as evidence.
The president of the Constitutional Court, Gilbert Armijo, explained:
“The journalist was not under investigation, he was a third party. We did an indepth analysis of proportionality, to see if what was discovered from the search could be obtained by less burdensome means. We conclude that it was disproportionate, it was not reasonable and unnecessary, therefore, we say that there is a violation of the right to privacy that covers anyone”.
Judge Armijo added that, “It is essential the protection of journalists in carrying out their work, in the dissemination of essential information in a democratic society like ours…”
The magistrates ordered that the reporter’s telephone records cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings against the police official and warned the OIJ and the AG’s office not to carry out similar searches in the future.
The matter came to light in January of this year when Diario Extra newspaper said it had come into possession of a document showing that the AG’s office and the OIJ searched the phone records of Diario Extra reporter Manuel Estrada in an effort to identify his sources.
Attorney General Jorge Chavarria acknowledged the examination of Estrada’s call records, but denied that investigators listened to any conversations.
Authorities were trying to determine the source of leaks in a kidnapping case, the attorney general said.
A search of telephone records – incoming and outgoing calls – are allowed in out country without a court order. To listen in on telephone conversations, however, authorities must obtain a warrant.
Grupo Extra president, Iart Gomez, said he is satisified with the ruling because “it confirms our right to not reveal our sources”.
One member of the Constitutional tribunal, Ernesto Jinesta Lobo, pointed out in the ruling that under Costa Rican law, not even a judge can require a reporter to reveal his or her sources.