Knight Center
Knight Center


U.S. government secretly obtains phone records from AP reporters, editors

The U.S. Department of Justice secretly obtained two months' worth of phone records for more than 20 lines used by several reporters and editors from the Associated Press, the agency reported.

The records included outgoing calls dialed from AP phones – including some staff members’ home and cellular numbers – during the months of April and May 2012. It is not known if the records included any other information, the AP said.

It is unclear what information the authorities were seeking but the records were obtained shortly after the AP reported on a foiled al-Qaeda plot to hijack a plane flying from Yemen to the United States.

The Justice Department has been conducting an investigation to find out who leaked the information to the AP.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP CEO Gary Pruitt wrote: 

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. We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.

The Newspaper Guild of Communications Workers of America joined Pruitt in demanding the Department of Justice return all the records obtained and destroy all copies.

"The collection of these records is egregious and a direct attack on journalists, and the Justice Department needs to cease and desist such investigations," the Guild said in a statement. "The ability of journalists to develop and protect sources is vital to keeping the public informed about issues affecting their lives."

Others, including civil rights organizations and politicians across the aisle, also criticized the DOJ’s probe. Some secrecy experts said the investigation is larger in scope than other previous leak probes, the Washington Post reported.

Government officials normally notify news agencies in advance when they request phone records for an investigation, the AP said. But in this case, in a DOJ letter to the AP, the government cited an exemption because prior notice might have posed “a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

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