Associated Press says U.S. government seized journalists' phone records

Mon May 13, 2013 6:48pm EDT
 

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Associated Press on Monday said the U.S. government secretly seized telephone records of AP offices and reporters for a two-month period in 2012, describing the acts as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news-gathering operations.

AP Chief Executive Gary Pruitt, in a letter posted on the agency's website, said the AP was informed last Friday that the Justice Department gathered records for more than 20 phone lines assigned to the agency and its reporters.

"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters," Pruitt said in the letter, which was addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder.

An AP story on the records seizure said the government would not say why it sought the records.

But it noted that U.S. officials have previously said the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia was conducting a criminal investigation into information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed for the United States.

Five reporters and an editor involved in that story were among those whose phone numbers were obtained by the government, the AP said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia, which notified the AP of the seizure, issued a statement on Monday saying it was "careful and deliberative" when dealing with issues around freedom of the press.

"We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations," the office said.   Continued...

 
A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, New York May 13, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif