What’s at Stake When the Department of Justice Seizes AP Phone Records

by JOHN KNEFEL, Rolling Stone  |  published on May 16, 2013

JayCarney
This week, it was revealed that the Department of Justice secretly seized two months’ worth of private phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors. As this decision comes under increasing scrutiny, press freedom advocates say it’s just part of a larger battle for control of information – one that they’ve been trying to sound an alarm on for a long time.

“I’ve been saying for years that this is a backdoor way to go after journalists,” says Jesselyn Radack, a former DOJ employee and whistleblower who is now director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project.

The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 – a 96-year-old law that was written to target spies, not journalists’ sources – than all previous administrations combined. Reporters (sometimes thinly anonymized as “Reporter A”) often show up in these indictments, says Radack, a fact that she believes “should have been a wake-up call.”

On Monday, the AP revealed that the phone records seized by the DOJ could bring over 100 employees who use those phone lines under the scope of the investigation – which appears to be focused on a single AP story, from May 7th, 2012. The story reported that the CIA disrupted an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up an airliner, though it later came out that the plot was actually a sting set-up. In recently confirmed CIA director John Brennan’s words, “We had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.”

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