DOJ’s seizure of phone records is appalling

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, May 25, 2013

In today’s Department of Justice, the ends seem to justify the means.

And it is sickening.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the secret seizure of phone records and reporters’ notes from at least 20 telephones within The Associated Press — in secret with no prior warning to the news organization. Holder said the search was justified as part of an investigation into a grave national security leak. He then denied playing a role in the seizures.

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The Justice Department obtained records for April and May 2012 for more than 20 telephone lines assigned to The Associated Press — a consortium of newsgathering organizations around the world. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the department’s response failed to justify the breadth of its subpoena, which included phone numbers in locations used by more than 100 journalists.

“This administration has put a real value on the rule of law and our values as Americans. I think the actions that we have taken are consistent with both,” Holder said.

We beg to disagree. And we hope we are not alone.

In the 30 years since the Justice Department issued guidelines governing subpoena practices relating to phone records from journalists, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said, “None of us can remember an instance where such an overreaching dragnet for newsgathering materials was deployed.”

Democrats and Republicans, small-government proponents and civil liberties groups — rarely on the same page on most issues — are rightfully up in arms. Secretly obtaining reporters’ notes and launching a phishing expedition against the lone entity responsible for keeping governments in check flies in direct conflict with this country’s founding.

Keeping a free press, away from government interference, is crucial to the survival of our Representative Republic. The overreaching arm of the British crown paved the way for the founding of the United States.

These actions cannot be tolerated from a government that, with the assistance of technology, can be anywhere at any time with no notice. The power is frightening.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and fervent critic of the press, knew of its importance if a nation based on freedom could prosper.

“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it,” he said in 1786.

Finding the leaker of sensitive classified information about national security is important.

But is it important enough to go about it the way Holder’s DOJ did?