Senior executives at the Associated Press have said that the United States Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of AP reporters and editors. According to AP attorneys, the Justice Department seized records from about a year ago for more than 20 telephone lines used by the news organization.
The Justice Department was interested in records of outgoing calls from the work and personal telephones of individual reporters, as well as calls from AP offices in New York, Washington and Hartford.
It is unknown which journalists used the office phone lines in April and May of last year, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices that the Justice Department targeted.
“They haven’t told us what they are looking for and nor have they explained why we got no prior notice, which our lawyers tell us that it’s not only customary but required” (Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president-executive editor).
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation.
Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but it is unusual for the government to secretly seize so many sensitive records, which include general AP switchboard numbers and an office-wide shared fax line.
The AP said it received a letter from the Justice Department on Friday that notified it of the seizure but offered no explanation.
The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of providing classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined. This could be a sign that the federal government is seeking to restrict and intimidate the free press.
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