By Hernandez, Debra Gersh
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 127, No. 23
World Cup organizing committee agrees to media proposal that reporters seeking accreditation to cover the soccer championships provide only their Social Security numbers
WORLD CUP USA has agreed to scale back its request for extensive background checks on reporters covering the soccer championships in the United States.
World Cup had sent waivers to be signed by reporters seeking credentials, stating that the reporter agreed to allow World Cup agents access to his or her FBI and state and local law enforcement records, including any criminal investigative records.
Media organizations protested the request, calling the expanse of information overly broad and possibly illegal (E&P, April 23, p. 17).
Instead, media representatives proposed -- and World Cup officials agreed -- that reporters only be required to give their Social Security numbers for background checks. Such informatiion often is required when applying for credentials for high-security assignments.
"This, we are told, is a customary practice and this brings the World Cup accreditation procedures into line with any other large events where security issues are important -- where there will be heads of state and where international tensions may well exhibit themselves," said Richard Winfield of Rogers & Wells, who represented the Associated Press.
"I take the World Cup organizers at their word when they say they have security concerns and they had intended to require these very intrusive authorizations from not only journalists, but also players, employees and the fellow who sells the hot dogs at the stadiums," he continued, addifg, "We are not unmindful of their concerns, but the original authorizatin violated the law and any American sense of privacy.
"To practice your profession, you should'nt have to agree to let the organizers get access to every incident in your life that's recorded in some law enforcement computer, including arrests without convictions and interviews and neighbors. That information was available to World Cup organizers had journalists signed the original waiver," Winfield said.
"The words of the original waiver were breathtaking, and when we pointed out that it violated the law, New York human rights law, we were able to get their attention," he said.
New York state law, he explained, says it is "an unlawfuf discriminatory practice for any person to make any inquiry about the arrest record of any person, to make any inquiry about the arrest record of any person [being considered] for employment, if that arrest did not result in a conviction.
"Law enforcement people can get access, and they should get access. Courts for sentencing can get access. If you want a gun license [a background check is required]. But to cover a soccer match, no. And that was the basis of our objection," Winfield said.
Winfield added that while he was not certain, he believes "the privacy laws and the human rights laws of [other] states create a fabric of protections that protects against the really intrusive.
"The Social Security number, by all accounts, is the least intrusive and most customary identifier that at least American citizens are accustomed to," he added. "This represents a very satisfactory outcome. It was the right thing to do, and it was the legal thing to do."
New York Times senior attorney George FreeXan also had expressed his opposition to the credentialing waivers, and said his company is "glad that they accepted what was a reasonable proposal and should've been the process from the beginning. …