A gag order (also known as a gagging order or suppression order) is an order, sometimes a legal order by a court or government, other times a private order by an employer or other institution, restricting information or comment from being made public, or in some cases, passed onto a third party, for the purpose of "hiding" or "covering up" or "white-washing" compromising, questionable, deceptive practices, fraud, or other illegal activities with the help of the legal process itself, or to protect the privacy of victims or minors. Gag orders are most commonly used to conceal information from the public. In some cases, gag orders may be used, for example, to keep legitimate trade secrets of a company. Or, to protect the integrity of ongoing police or military operations. Conversely, as their downside, they are often also abused as a useful tool for those of financial means to intimidate witnesses and prevent release of information in a legal fashion without resorting directly to violence, or other methods of more heightened intimidation. Sometimes corporations or other entities of financial means will also use Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) to prevent potential witnesses from speaking against them.
Legitimate claims for use of a gag order include, for instance, a criminal court may issue a gag order on the media if the judge believes, or claims to believe, that potential jurors in a future trial will be influenced by the media reporting or speculation on the early stages of a case. Another example might be to ensure police are not impeded in their investigations by media publicity about a case.
Gag orders are often used against participants involved in a lawsuit or criminal trial. They are also a tool to prevent media from publishing unwanted information on a particular topic.
In a similar manner, a 'gag law' is intended to limit freedom of the press, by instituting censorship or restricting access to information.
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