WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (JTA) – The Anti-Defamation League has claimed victory in a court decision affirming that its files and sources are protected by the same confidentiality rules that apply to journalists. The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that the ADL can keep information it gathered about pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists confidential, but must turn over any material that was obtained illegally and distributed. The ADL was appealing a judge’s order to hand over files it gathered during the early 1990s on 17 activists who later sued the Jewish organization for invasion of privacy. The activists accused ADL of illegally obtaining confidential records, including driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, from the state of California and using the information to create a blacklist. The ADL, which publishes various reports, books and special bulletins as part of its hate-monitoring activities, argued that it was merely gathering information about terrorists and other hate groups. It denied having a blacklist. In a statement, ADL said it viewed the decision “as a victory for ADL and a victory for the First Amendment.” The decision “reaffirms our status as a journalistic news gathering organization with the right to protect our files. ADL is confident that the court’s ruling, which allowed for very limited discovery, will demonstrate the plaintiffs’ claims are unfounded.” The appeals court ruling, while protecting the ADL’s journalistic rights, requires the organization to turn over any material used for non-journalistic purposes, such as disclosures made to the governments of Israel or South Africa or to ADL’s supporters. Believing that ADL made such disclosures, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs also declared victory in the ruling, saying it would force ADL to turn over illegally obtained material and clear the way for the lawsuit against ADL to proceed. Jill Meltzer, ADL’s in-house counsel, said the plaintiffs have a “mistaken view of the information that ADL has about them, and that’s going to become apparent.” Some of the information the plaintiffs have sought was contained in thousands of documents seized by San Francisco authorities in 1992 from a researcher working with ADL. Authorities conducted an 11-month investigation into whether ADL illegally obtained the files, but no criminal charges were filed. The ADL, however, later settled a civil suit brought by the city in connection with the files by paying $75,000 into a hate crimes reward fund and another $25,000 for hate crimes training in the office of the San Francisco district attorney.
Court backs ADL claim to keep files confidential