We recognize the necessity for the government to protect properly classified information and to ensure that information that would clearly cause harm to our national security is not incautiously released. However, the revelation today that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the Associated Press is deeply disturbing. Seizing the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines exceeds anything that could be justified by any specific investigation of disclosures of classified information to the media.
The Justice Department has laid out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organization: a subpoena can only be considered after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources; and a subpoena to the media must be "as narrowly drawn as possible" and "should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period.” In this instance, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice might "pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation." According to AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt's letter and attorneys for the AP, though, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure in its letter to the AP.
We find this unconscionable. We join the AP in its demand for the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.