Blog Post

Feds grab reporters’ phone records: war on terror — or war on leaks?

The Associated Press revealed on Monday that the Justice Department secretly obtained records for more than 20 phone lines belonging to its reporters and editors. The seizures affected both personal cell phones and office lines in AP bureaus in New York, Hartford and Washington.

The AP’s CEO, Gary Pruitt, revealed the existence of the phone record seizures, which took place in early 2012, in a public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder which states in part:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters [..] We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

Various reports of the seizures have suggested they are tied to the Justice Department’s investigation of media leaks related to a CIA operation in Yemen.

According to David Schulz, a lawyer for the AP, the Justice Department may have violated Watergate-era regulations that require the Attorney General to sign off on subpoenas directed at members of the media. In a phone interview, Schulz told me that the government’s broad request interferes with the basic ability of a free press to report on the government.

While the national security aspects of the story are not entirely clear, some media outlets are framing the phone record seizures as further evidence of the Obama Administration’s hardline attitude towards press leaks, which has resulted in several high profile prosecutions in the past five years.

Leaks have become easier to trace in recent years given that so much communication involves technology that leaves virtual fingerprints of one kind or another. At the same time, national security letters and other legal trappings of the post 9/11 era mean it’s become easier for a wide variety of government and law enforcement agencies to obtain phone records without a warrant.

Government seizures of reporters’ communications also appear at cross-purposes with calls for a federal shield law to protect journalists from having to disclose their sources; if such a law were passed, the AP episode shows the government could try and determine sources by looking at reporters’ phone records.

7 Responses to “Feds grab reporters’ phone records: war on terror — or war on leaks?”

  1. Allan

    RobPaulGru, i’d hardly say it was “unsurpassed” but I would say the media’s lack of integrity on digging for the truth in matters like these has been pathetic.


  2. RobPaulGru

    The criminality of the Obama administration is truly unsurpassed. Fast and Furious, Benghazi, spying on AP reporters, sending arms to the Muslim Brotherhood, etc., etc… It is remarkable. Even more so, that the media has just now caught on.

    • Khan isn't the easy route

      Unsurpassed, eh?

      Read your history book. Reagan’s administration sold arms to Iran, to give the proceeds to the Contras (Fast and Furious, “sending arms to the Muslim Brotherhood” pale in comparison). Reagan’s response to the Beruit bombing was to pull out of Lebanon (yet today, conservatives ignore that because their blinded by their rally cry of war). Reagan raised taxes (yet Obama is tantamount to being Evil for the same reason).

      What’s so remarkable is that is just one administration. Try looking back at the atrocites that Andrew Jackson committed against the forced removal of Native Americans during his terms in office. Try looking at how people idolize the Southern Confederacy when all they did was seceed to maintain their state’s right to have slavery, the worst blight on the history of the United States.

      Look at how LBJ over blew the Gulf of Tonkin incident so he could fully engage in Vietnam. Look at how FDR opened up internment camps for Germans and Japanese people during WWII. Look at how Jefferson argued for an agrarian society, yet governed like a strong Federalist. Look at how a member of the House beat up a member of the Senate, and then didn’t get in any trouble for it.

      The “criminality” of the Obama administration is remotely unsurpassed. I don’t think you know what the word “truly” actually means.

      • Jeff B

        Just because one can find a more egregious offender does not exonerate the bad acts of another. This “relative moral outrage” is the daily mantra of well-meaning liberals. That said, there’s something very satisfying to see the main stream press being violated by the very person they sacrificed their integrity and objectivity to protect. Like a battered wife crying because her abusive husband read her text messages, she’ll cry herself to sleep but never leave. And we’ll soon forget this violation of trust – because we all know he meant well.