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AP Criticizes Seizure of Telephone Records by U.S. Government
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On Monday, the Associated Press said that the U.S. government had secretly accessed and seized telephone records of AP reporters and offices over a two-month period last year. In a letter posted on their website, AP CEO Gary Pruitt said that AP was informed only last Friday that the DOJ had collected records of more than 20 phone lines of the agency and also that of its reporters.

Terming the government action as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into freedom of the press in gathering news, Pruitt said in his letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters.”

Pruitt also stressed “that the government has no right to know” about private news gathering operations.

  
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However, prosecutors are known to have obtained subpoenas directed at more than 20 telephone lines to track the leak of a CIA operation that stopped an al Qaeda attempt to bomb an airplane bound for U.S. The attack was scheduled to coincide with the death anniversary of Osama bin Laden.

Associated Press published the story on May 7, 2012, raising concerns in government circles about who leaked the sensitive information to the press.

Attorney General Eric Holder had commented last June over the issue that “The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated.”

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While the administration has been worried about classified government information leaking out to the wrong people – tracking 20 phone lines of the AP for over two months and over a single leak investigation does seem “unprecedented.”

The media seems resigned to the fact, and as Gregg Leslie, legal defense director with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press admitted, “We’ve given up thinking they might respect the role of the press.”



While the American Civil Liberties Union termed the government action as “an unacceptable abuse of power,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia said in a statement, “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.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which notified AP of the collection of phone records, also observed that the government was not required to notify media organizations in advance about seizure of records to maintain, “integrity of the investigation.”

The subpoenas were not meant to tap phones, but to obtain phone logs which are, at present, not considered as property of the users, but of the phone company.

However, AP CEO Pruitt maintained that access of such phone logs and revealing of information can jeopardize private news gathering and expose confidential sources.



 

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