According to an AP report, the Justice Department seized records for around 20 Associated Press phone lines during April and May of last year. Those records include incoming and outgoing calls on those lines, as well as the duration of each call.
The AP called
the record-gathering a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” In a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President and 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.”
The Justice Department notified the AP on Friday that it had seized the records, but it offered no explanation as to why. Generally, government agencies are required to provide prior warning, but the Justice Department cited a security exemption in this case.
Government officials previously said they had planned to investigate who leaked information to the AP that ended up in a story about a failed terrorism plot in Yemen. The records included the phone calls of the editors and reporters involved in the reporting of that story.
How public the records will become isn’t clear, but the simple fact that the Department of Justice has access to these records, at will and with little explanation, could absolutely have an impact on the relationship between journalists and their sources.
This seizure sidesteps the issue of reporters’ privilege entirely, going through phone companies to unveil confidential sources.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.