BY REBECCA PALMER
I join with Society of Professional Journalists President Sonny Albarado and many other respected journalists today in condemning the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice in what appears to be an unnecessary intrusion of AP journalists by getting secret access to their phone records.
The justice department secretly looked at two months of records from AP reporters in Washington, D.C., New York and Connecticut, including home and mobile phone lines, and did it without a warrant.
The records were gathered in relation to a story that was published last may about a CIA employee who had stopped an Al-Quaida attack. Some of that information was classified, and led to an investigation about who might have leaked it.
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard much about this issue from local media sources, nor have I heard it discussed on the national stage to the extent it deserves. This, I believe, is because of the breaking news scandals surrounding the IRS and how the Obama administration handled the attacks in Benghazi.
Those issues are important, no doubt, but this action by the Department of Justice is equally troubling because it hits at the heart of the First Amendment and our democratic republic form of government.
Part of the issue is that only subpoenas were required to get the records, not warrants. I think this is improper. We rely on due process for all people, even journalists and government leakers, and should protect our right to it.
It also brings up an age-old issue about the relationships between reporters and the government. I echo the thoughts of Albarado, who said this in a press release:
“This incident proves once again the need for a federal Shield Law. Prosecutors, unlike reporters, have subpoena power to compel testimony, yet lazy prosecutors often prefer to go after reporters’ notes and records rather than do the hard investigative work to dig out information without trampling on the First Amendment.”
Law enforcers, the government’s ability to jail people, seize their property, violate their privacy and sometimes, even kill them, is a sacred one that we collectively allow only because we have hope that if we get the scumbags, we’ll all be safer. But remember that these powers should be used as carefully and infrequently a possible. They have the power to impede our basic rights to life, liberty and happiness.
The fact that the government can now do some of these things through technological means alone doesn’t always make it right. In this case, violating these journalists certainly seems to have been the wrong action to take.
We know that journalists are just regular people and shouldn’t usually be afforded extra rights and privileges, but the governments we write about shouldn’t intimidate us, either.
On that note, now is a good time to thank our local law enforcers for their help and cooperation with us. We have had no problems such as those mentioned above, and are pleased for the trusting relationship we have with local officers.