Today we had a front page story about the U.S. Department of Justice secretly obtaining records for 20 telephone lines belonging to the Associated Press and its reporters. Because some of the numbers were for the main line to AP offices, the snooping affected as many as 100 reporters and their sources.
It’s an enormously improper interference with the freedom of the press resulting from years of increasingly aggressive investigations into leaks. Although some began under the Bush administration, the Obama administration has continue to pursue these investigations and even escalated attacks on journalists and their sources. Trevor Timm, who co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation with Daniel Ellsburg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers, traces the roots of these efforts aimed at intimidation and suppression of information. Timm notes on the foundation’s blog that the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.
He also points to software used by the FBI to sift through government emails and texts to cull out targeted names and key phrases. The Washington Post has reported that government officials discovered to have communicated with particular reporters have received warnings.
The New York Times and other news outlets have also been the subject of leak investigations following reports about U.S. cyber attacks and drone strikes. Last year, DOJ lawyers even argued in court that reporters’ privilege doesn’t exist for those covering national security.
Is Congress concerned about this crack-down on journalists? Nope, congressional leaders have encouraged and even demanded more severe punishment for leaks.