The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

    Seizure of Associated Press phone records exposes alarming overreach by government

    Good reporting, especially on government affairs, is often based on journalists’ ability to protect the anonymity of their sources.

    Recent reports point to the Department of Justice secretly obtaining the phone records of several Associated Press reporters and offices.

    This surprising news has reporters and news agencies worried about what this means for the safety of their sources and the privacy of their news
    gathering efforts.

    Records of reporters were obtained by the Justice Department for 20 phone numbers in three states including the Congressional press gallery.

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    It is customary for the news agency to be informed of the subpoena before the records are obtained, not after which was the case with the AP.

    The phone records were acquired as part of an investigation into information the AP had used in a news story in 2012, which revealed the CIA had foiled an underwear bomb plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen, according to The Associated Press.

    At the center of the argument is the claim the leaks were a matter of national security.

    “It put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference. “And trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action.”

    This begs the question, what are we willing to sacrifice for the umbrella term “national security?”

    The First Amendment, freedom of the press, should not be something we take lightly — this overreach by the Department of Justice constitutes a threat to the tools journalists need to effectively perform their jobs.

    If sources, or future sources, feel their anonymity is in danger of being compromised by the government, than retaliation is potentially a danger as well.

    National security is a legitimate concern that should be taken seriously by all reporters and news agencies.

    However, the AP did not publish the Underwear Bomb plot  story until the U.S. government told them there would be no danger in doing so, said Gary Pruitt, president of the AP.

    The solution to allowing the press to protect its sources while giving the government access to the security information it needs, is to create a federal shield law.

    Most states have shield laws that uphold reporters’ rights to protect their sources but those laws aren’t cohesive and some states do not have any shield laws.

    In such cases of government seizures of phone records that involve multiple states — are a perfect example for why a federal shield law is needed.

    “The federal government must prove to a judge that the information sought outweighs the journalist’s need to keep confidential information,” according to The Society of Professional Journalists’ website.

    There is currently a House resolution and a Senate bill for a Free Flow of Information Act, or federal shield law. It has been defeated several times before — however in light of recent events — hopefully it will pass this time for the benefit of investigative journalism.

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