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Justice Dept. wildly oversteps, secretly gathers AP reporters’ phone records

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Government WiretappingFreedom of the press took a hit in the jaw Monday when news leaked that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of The Associated Press’ telephone records.

Justice officials haven’t said why they pulled the documents, but AP officials speculated that the search was prompted by a story the wire service recently broke about an “al-Qaida bomb plot in Yemen,” according to Business Insider.

Business Insider’s Pamela Engel reported:

The plot involved smuggling a bomb concealed in underwear onto a plane bound for the U.S. The AP first reported on plans for the attack, but it was later revealed that the plans involved a double agent working for a British intelligence service and the CIA.

Justice Department officials obtained records of incoming and outgoing calls at the AP’s New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., offices, as well as AP reporters’ personal phones.

The news agency called the Justice Department’s action “an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering.”

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said “there can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection” of phone records and that the documents “potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period.”

When asked how it obtained the phone records, the Justice Department sent this prepared statement to Business Insider:

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.  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.  We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.  Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair andeffective administration of our criminal laws.

associated press

Confidential news sources tend to fade into the woodwork when they hear of the government taking such intrusive steps to get information. When news sources disappear, it isn’t long before the news becomes whatever the government says it is.

This hasn’t been a particularly good week for the Obama administration. Multiple media outlets reported that the IRS has been targeting conservative nonprofit organizations for two years and that the White House scrubbed the CIA’s timeline of events surrounding the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi. This disclosure only adds fuel to the fire.

Last week the press learned that it had been lied to about Benghazi. This week it learned that they have been spied upon. The media won’t stand for either.

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