Maybe we need to start worrying about those black helicopters after all. The Obama administration keeps confirming the alarms over intrusive government and the violation of civil liberties. In an effort to track down the source of leaks, the justice department has secretly subpoened and seized two months of phone records of the Associated Press. David Schultz, lawyer for the AP, calls this crackdown on confidential sources a “dagger at the heart” of reporters’ ability to get the news.
Whether or not you are sympathetic to the plight of journalists here (and we must not let our dislike of the media distract from the First Amendment issues), this possible government overreach may have an unintended consequence: What if it turns the press against the Obama administration? Who knows what else they may dig up?
From the Washington Post:
In a sweeping and unusual move, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.
The AP’s president said Monday that federal authorities obtained cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor; AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn.; and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress. He called the Justice Department’s actions a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities.
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. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the AP’s president and chief executive, Gary B. Pruitt, said that the Justice Department sought information beyond what could be justified by any specific probe and demanded that the government return the phone records and destroy all copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt wrote to Holder. “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.”