DOJ Gets Phone Records of AP Reporters


The Huffington Post reports that the Department of Justice obtained the phone records of numerous reporters for the Associated Press as well as records for the news organization’s generic phone lines and switchboards. AP sent a letter to the attorney general protesting the situation.

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls 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. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.

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. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

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…

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.

The records were apparently obtained through subpoenas rather than warrants. It’s likely that this is part of yet another investigation seeking to identify a whistleblower they can prosecute. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Comments

  1. says

    While the AP supports whistleblower protections, they also have a record of supporting the government on warrantless wiretaps and other “national security initiatives that will help to keep us all safe”, only rarely writing articles to question, much less oppose, such practices.

    Yet another example of how direct violations of constitutional are “necessary for the public good” until you become the target.

  2. slc1 says

    With the demise of payphones, it becomes harder for reporters to keep their phone records secret. However, as I understand it, one can purchase anonymously throwaway prepaid cell phones from 7/11, Walmart, Best Buy, etc. If both the reporter and the source use these prepaid phones, there is no way to find out who made and who received the call.

  3. dogmeat says

    It’s a good thing we elected that radical liberal who believes in protecting peoples rights and liberties… oh wait…

  4. Trebuchet says

    Unlike Bengazi-gate, a genuine scandal. But most Republicans aren’t going to worry about the government spying on “the liberal media”. If they’d been spying of Faux News, of course, that would be different.

  5. daved says

    The main difference this time, I think, is that it’s the media’s own ox that got gored. They’ll be a lot more upset about that than so many other abuses of power.

  6. unbound says

    I agree with both Trebuchet and Gregory. Benghazi doesn’t appear to be anything special, and the IRS issue is actually a lot less than is being portrayed in the media. This is a very big issue…and shame on the media for being relatively silent regarding this issue that has been around for many years until they became the target.

  7. Trebuchet says

    @7: Probably something to do with actually being able to use the information to prosecute a whistle-blower, as opposed to just intelligence gathering.

  8. abb3w says

    @2, slc1

    With the demise of payphones, it becomes harder for reporters to keep their phone records secret. However, as I understand it, one can purchase anonymously throwaway prepaid cell phones from 7/11, Walmart, Best Buy, etc. If both the reporter and the source use these prepaid phones, there is no way to find out who made and who received the call.

    That’s one way — though those can also be traced, if the user isn’t careful. Last I heard, the ACLU was still fighting in court, but the government can still get the phone companies to cough up some location information about the cell number sans warrant — which is usually enough to uniquely identify who has it. (If you’re going to be a whistleblower, be sure to pull the battery whenever the phone is not in active use, and don’t call from near your home or office.) However, There are other technologies besides the telephone, which can be more effective for avoiding surveillance.

    And the Ingenious Patriots race progress ever onward….

  9. Ben P says

    While it doesn’t really excuse what the government did, here’s the thing that gets me about this story.

    The leak in question was for an AP story about a disrupted Terror plot. When this story was published, Republicans immediately piled on Obama about someone in his administration leaking sensitive national security information for news stories to make himself look good.

    Then he assigns a US attorney to investigate the leaks. The US attorney subpoenas phone records to investigate the leak. Republicans then pile on Obama for daring to invade the privileges of journalists by this investigation.

  10. says

    @Ben P #10 – When President Obama smiles, the GOP dogpiles on him for not being serious. When he frowns, the GOP dogpiles on him for not having a sense of humor. When he is neither smiling nor frowning, the GOP dogpiles on him for being emotionless.

    Dogpiling on President Obama seems to be the only thing the GOP is capable of doing.

  11. says

    Scr..Archivist wrote:

    If the U.S. government already records all telephone calls, why do they need to get these records? Can’t they just listen to the actual conversations and find out what was said, not merely who was on the phone with whom?

    Because what they glean from the data mining can’t be used in court.

Leave a Reply