The Associated Press revealed this week that the Justice Department secretly gathered two months worth of telephone records from its reporters and editors. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt described the move as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering operation. The seizure of records is reportedly part of a year-long investigation regarding possible leaks of classified materials about a failed al-Qaeda terror plot last year.
“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP… In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012,” reports the Associated Press.
The Radio Television Digital News Association called the seizure “a blatant violation of basic rights afforded by the First Amendment.”
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” said Pruitt. “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 AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
“The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material,” notes The Washington Post. “Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.”
“This investigation is broader and less focused on an individual source or reporter than any of the others we’ve seen,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “They have swept up an entire collection of press communications. It’s an astonishing assault on core values of our society.”
“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,” explained Bill Miller, spokesman for the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “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.”