Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Jacob Misener

U.S. government seizes two months of phone records belonging to AP reporters and editors


According to several reports, the United States Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of Associated Press (AP) reporters, as well as an editor, in what AP chief executive officer Gary Pruitt called a “massive and unprecedented intrustion” into the inner workings of a news-gathering organization.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to the AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” said Pruit in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

According to the AP, phone records to more than two months of records for 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists were seized. This included the work and personal phone numbers of reporters, the AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Connecticut, as well as the main line for AP reporters in the House of Representatives.

The Washington Post reports that the seizure is part of one of two leak investigations ordered by Holder last week. This yearlong, ongoing investigation is centered around the release of classified information about a thwarted Al-Qaeda plot last May.

The phone records of both the five reporters and the editor who worked on that story were among those seized by the Justic Department, according to the Post.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia released a statement saying it is not legally required to notify a media organization ahead of time when issuing subpoenas if doing so “would post a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

“We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations,” Bill Miller, spokeman for the office, said in a statement. “Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media.”

The AP received a letter Friday from the Justice Department that offered no reasoning for the seizure, according to Pruitt’s letter to Holder.

Civil rights and pro-free speech groups have spoken out against the actions of the Justice Department in recent days, citing the protection of the First Amendment.

“Obtaining a broad range of telephone records in order to ferret out a government leaker is an unacceptable abuse of power. Freedom of the press is a pillar of our democracy, and that freedom often depends on confidential communications between reporters and their sources,” said Ben Wenzer, director tor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Speech, Privacy and Technology project.

Nebraska U.S. Senator, Republican Deb Fischer, spoke out against the actions of the Justice Department and the alleged scandal that rocked the Internal Revenue Service late last week.

“The effect of this data gathering is clear. Intimidation of the press and suppression of free speech. This is unacceptable,” said Fischer.

Concluding her speech on both the recent reports concerning the IRS and the Justice Department, Fischer urged President Obama and Holder to come forward with answers.

“The Attorney General and the President owe the American people answers and they owe them now.”

At his midday press briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the lack of White House involvement.

“We are not involved at the White House in any decisions made in connection with ongoing criminal investigations as those matters are handled appropriately by the Justice Department, independently.”

Throughout the briefing Tuesday afternoon, Carney repeatedly deferred questions related to the Associated Press matters to the Department of Justice, and declined to comment due to the fact that not all details were readily available as of yet.


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