Reporters Without Borders

Seizure of AP phone records condemned as “grave violation”

Seizure of AP phone records condemned as “grave violation”

Published on Tuesday 14 May 2013.
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Reporters Without Borders regards the US Department of Justice’s seizure of the records of thousands of Associated Press phone calls as an “extremely grave violation of freedom of information.”

The DOJ notified the AP in an email on 10 May that it had obtained the records of calls made from 20 of the news agency’s phone lines during April and May 2012. The email did not specify the DOJ’s reasons for seizing them or the legal grounds on which they were seized.

But the purpose was presumably to identify the news agency’s sources for a story, in particular, an AP report on 7 May 2012 revealing details of a CIA operation to thwart an Al-Qaeda plot to blow up an airplane bound for the United States.

The targeted phone lines were those of several AP bureaux in the United States, its main number in the House of Representatives press gallery, and the personal numbers of some of its employees, including five reporters and an editor involved in producing the May 2012 report.

“We share the view of AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt, who called it a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ in a letter yesterday to US attorney general Eric Holder,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We urge the DOJ to comply immediately with the AP’s request for the return or destruction of the seized phone records.

“We also think that such a flagrant violation of constitutional guarantees needs to be the subject of a congressional commission of enquiry. We regret to see that the federal government has not ended the practices that prevailed during President George W. Bush’s two terms, when officials sacrificed the protection of private data and, above all, the First Amendment right to be informed.”

Deloire added: “This case has demonstrated the need for a federal shield law that guarantees the protection of journalists’ sources, a principle that 34 of the Union’s states already recognize to varying degrees in their legislation.”

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