The U.S. Department of Justice seized phone records for several Associated Press reporters last year in a move that is raising concerns of government intrusion and overreach in private news gathering practices.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that records relating to 20 telephone numbers in New York, Washington, D.C. and Hartford, Connecticut were seized last year by the DOJ in what it believes is a criminal investigation into the leak of possible classified information.
The AP seems to think the seizure of records was prompted by a May 2012 story involving a terrorist plot that was foiled by the Central Intelligence Agency. Some of the phone records seized by the DOJ belonged to phone numbers associated with reporters who worked on that story.
The DOJ only recently notified the AP that its phone records had been obtained.
(Read: The Associated Press report on the seizure of phone records)
The AP’s Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt has called for the DOJ to return the phone records and destroy any copies.
The Newspaper Guild, a labor union that represents some AP staffers, also demanded the phone records be returned, calling the DOJ’s actions “egregious” and “a direct attack on journalists.”
“The ability of journalists to develop and protect sources is vital to keeping the public informed about issues affecting their lives,” the Guild said in a statement on Monday.
In February, CIA Director John Brennan denied he was a source of the information leaked to the AP, adding that the release of information was an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”
On Monday, the White House said it was unaware of the DOJ’s attempt to collect AP phone records beyond what had been published in the media.
Associated Press: Staffer phone numbers targeted in DOJ investigation
New York Times: Phone records of journalists seized by Justice Department