The Associated Press has accused the Justice Department of “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” That's according to one of the AP's top executives, after learning that the government secretly acquired two months of the news agency's telephone records. In a letter to the AP last Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation, as to why it sought the records of 20 separate phone lines used by reporters in April and May of last year. However, in previous testimony, government officials said that the U.S. Attorney in Washington was conducting a criminal investigation into the leak of confidential CIA information that was cited in an AP story last year.
AP President and CEO, Gary Pruitt, sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder, writing, “the government has no conceivable right to know” about communications with confidential sources. Normally, news agencies are notified in advance when the government wants these type of records, and there's negotiation between the agency and the government over the requested information. But the Justice Department's letter cited an exemption to that requirement, which waives the notification requirement if it poses “a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”
It's not clear if the records request was signed off on by a judge or grand jury, or if the request was granted by secret FISA courts. So, the Justice Department has violated our First Amendment without so much as a warning, and refuses to disclose their reason for doing so. This is something we should all be concerned about.
Freedom of the press is one of our most important liberties. The press is our fourth estate, and it is our constitutionally protected way to publicly challenge our government. It was Thomas Jefferson who said “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” We must protect this liberty, and start demanding some answers from our Justice Department.
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