Tuesday, February 15, 2005 8:27 AM

Freedom of information: Priceless

The EFF is trying to protect the identities of the sources of several journalists who provided information about Appple products still under development; Apple went to court and got a subpoena for the ISP for the email of one of the journalists, and the EFF has now asked for a protective order.

This is one of those cases where it would be nice if the press won, but if we can't get information about the latest tech gadget ahead of time, we're probably not going to suffer too badly.

However, elsewhere today, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case of the three journalists held in contempt for refusal to reveal their sources in connection with stories around the Bush administration's allegations that Saddam Hussein had tried to get uranium from Africa.

As part of their various investigations, stories were published that named Valerie Plame as a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction. All three were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury investigating the leaks about the CIA official's identity. They all asserted their First Amendment right to protect their sources and all were found in civil contempt by the DC trial court.

And now the DC Circuit has found that they have no First Amendment right and no federal common law right to protect their sources.

This is why we need a shield law to protect the freedom of the press. If sources aren't free to talk to the press, then the press won't have those stories, and that's knowledge that the public will never have.

If there's one thing we should know by now, it's that more information about what the government says and does is always better than less. More information mean greater accountability for people in positions of power.

And that's why we should care whether we can learn about Apple's product line ahead of time; if we don't have basic protection for journalists and their sources in the less weighty cases, we surely won't have it when it counts.