AP news agency spied on by US government
News agency Associated Press (AP) has accused the US government of secretly and illegally obtaining phone records for 20 of the news agency's phone lines. The agency has revealed that its General Counsel Laura Malone was informed of the action by a letter from the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The data related to calls made over a two-month period in 2012 from AP phone lines in New York, Washington and Hartford, Connecticut and in the House of Representatives. The letter from the DoJ failed to provide a reason for its spying activities.
In a letter to the DoJ, the agency asserts that there is no justification for collecting such a broad range of data, which can be used to identify details of the activities of AP staff, including communication with informants. The letter states that AP was given no prior notice of the seizure of its data and that the seizure did not relate to a specific investigation as the law requires.
AP believes that the Department of Justice has infringed its fundamental rights and has asked the government to return the telephone records and destroy all copies. It has also demanded an explanation of the events and clarification of how the government will mitigate the effects of its espionage activities against AP and its reporters.
The news agency postulates that the action was provoked by a report on a thwarted al-Qaida bomb attack in Yemen. According to the Washington Post, the news agency had published background information which could have indicated the presence of a leak.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also criticised the DOJ's actions: "The media's purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance." It describes the seizure of phone records en masse in order to identify a government leak as an abuse of power.