Constitutional Law

AP complains of 'massive and unprecedented intrusion' by DOJ into reporters' phone records

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In a letter Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Associated Press complains of a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” by the Department of Justice into its reporters’ newsgathering activities, contending that the feds secretly obtained two months of phone records on 20 lines used by AP journalists, including home and cellphones.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters,” wrote Gary Pruitt, the news agency’s president and CEO, in the letter (PDF). “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 called it “particularly troubling” that the government neither notified the AP in advance nor, he wrote, took “any steps to narrow the scope of its subpoenas to matters actually relevant to an ongoing investigation.”

He said the AP is currently evaluating its legal options, but “urgently” requested that the DOJ return the toll records to the AP and destroy all copies.

In an article about the DOJ probe, the Associated Press said it isn’t known why the feds were investigating its reporters. However, the news agency speculates that the probe may be related to a May 7, 2012 article about a terror plot to detonate a bomb on a U.S.-bound plane that was foiled by a CIA operation in Yemen, since the phone records for five AP reporters and an editor who worked on the story were subpoenaed.

Asked for an explanation, the DOJ provided a written 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,” the DOJ says in the statement. “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 and effective administration of our criminal laws.”

Hat tip: Daily Caller.

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