CPJ alarmed by US seizure of AP phone records

New York, May 14, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that the United States Justice Department seized two months of telephone records of journalists with The Associated Press.

The AP reported that it had received a letter on Friday from the Justice Department that said the department had obtained records listing all outgoing calls made in April and May 2012 from more than 20 telephone lines, including the work and personal phone numbers of AP reporters and editors as well as the news outlet’s general office lines in New York, Washington, and Connecticut. It is not clear if the records included incoming calls as well.

The letter did not explain why the records had been sought, but the AP suggested there could be a possible link to a May 7, 2012, article that revealed a previously undisclosed CIA operation in Yemen and thwarted terrorist attack. The AP reported that the numbers of five journalists and an editor who worked on that story were included in the seized records. In a testimony to the Senate in February, CIA Director John Brennan criticized the use of leaked information in the article, and denied that he was the source, according to the AP.

In a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt objected to the broad scope of the seized records, writing: “That the Department undertook this unprecedented step without providing any notice to the AP, and without taking any steps to narrow the scope of its subpoenas to matters actually relevant to an ongoing investigation, is particularly troubling.” Pruitt added that the Justice Department’s own rules for subpoenaing a journalist’s materials stipulate that requests should be “as narrowly drawn as possible.” The president also asked that all the phone records be returned and any copies destroyed.

“We are seriously concerned about the actions taken by the Department of Justice, which could have a chilling effect on the U.S. media and its ability to report on sensitive issues,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Attorney General Eric Holder to provide a full explanation of the Department of Justice’s decision and comply with the request from the AP to return all telephone records.”

The Department of Justice under the Obama administration has aggressively gone after officials who leak classified information to the press, charging at least six under the Espionage Act, which is double the number of all previous administrations combined.