Justice Department won’t say why it seized reporters’ phone records


By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – It’s one of those days where those of us who worry about handing too much authority to the federal government were proven right. Again.

The Associated Press this afternoon reports that the U.S. Justice Department seized records for more than 20 telephone lines assigned to AP journalists during 2012.

The AP’s top executive rightly calls it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” of journalists’ privacy:

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP…

…In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.

“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 AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.

The federal government did not give the Associated Press a reason why they seized the records, because who needs that pesky “freedom of the press” thing in the First Amendment.  And surely this is the first and only time the feds have spied on journalists, right?

So, while the IRS is spending its time scrutinizing the tax records of conservative nonprofits and tea party groups, the Obama Justice Department is tracking communications between journalists and their confidential sources.

Boy, Big Government sure looks warm and cuddly this week.

Boehm is a civil liberties reporter for Watchdog.org and bureau chief for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com