Freedom House Troubled by Seizure of AP Records

Washington

Freedom House today expressed deep concern over news that the United States Justice Department has seized the records of telephone conversations of journalists at the Associated Press (AP) as part of an apparent broad investigation into the leaking of information regarding counterterror policies.  Freedom House calls on Congress to revive a federal “shield law” that would provide journalists with a measure of protection from prosecutors’ demands for information.

According to news accounts, the federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia seized records for 20 telephone lines of Associated Press journalists, including home phones and mobile phones.  The AP was not informed in advance of the prosecutors’ actions, nor did the Justice Department initiate a notice and negotiation process, under which news outlets are given the opportunity to challenge subpoenas in court.

The Obama administration has been aggressive in its efforts to rein in leaks of information relevant to national security.  It has won indictments of six current and former government officials on leak-related charges, and has attempted to compel journalists to testify in several of these cases.

“For some time we have been concerned about the administration’s over-zealous pursuit of alleged leakers and the efforts to force the testimony of journalists,” said David J. Kramer, Freedom House president.  “Preserving secrecy in national security deliberations is important, but this scatter-shot intrusion into the news-gathering affairs of the Associated Press is truly disturbing.  What we’re now seeing is an entirely new level of government involvement in the affairs of a free media.”

Kramer urged Congress to renew efforts to adopt a federal press shield law. Such laws establish standards that limit the government’s power to compel reporters to surrender notes or reveal the identity of sources.

“This incident with the Associated Press is a potent reminder of why an additional layer of protection for legitimate journalists is essential,” Kramer said.

To learn more, visit:

Report: Freedom of the Press 2013

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter and our blog.