Civil liberties groups are demanding answers from Attorney General Eric Holder after the Justice Department came under fire when the Associated Press revealed Monday that the executive branch department seized two months of reporter-and-editor phone records in April and May 2012.
The Justice Department’s spying on reporters is being called the latest in the Obama administration’s war on leaks.
“The media’s purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement Monday.
“The Attorney General must explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again,” said Murphy.
Nate Cardozo of the digital-rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation said to the Huffington Post that the DOJ’s spying was a “clear violation of the law.”
The DOJ, in a statement to Business Insider, defended itself against the AP’s allegations.
“Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws,” said the DOJ.
Still, a war on leaks is only part of the story.
The Obama administration’s track record for domestic electronic surveillance is unmatched by any other presidential administration in American history.
According to a recent New York Times report, President Obama is said to be “on the verge” of supporting FBI surveillance of instant messaging conversations.
The FBI has complained of a “Going Dark” problem for years. The Bureau is concerned that the migration of communications to the Internet would make its current surveillance tools ineffective.
Frustration with service-provider noncompliance has lead the FBI to seek the ability to fine those companies, according to a recent Washington Post piece.
The agency already monitors the public information users post to social networks. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy for such information.
The ACLU also published a report last week making the argument that recently-obtained FBI documents suggest the agency reads emails without a warrant. The documents were obtained by the organization through a Freedom of Information Act request.
FBI spokesman Christopher Allen told The Daily Caller that the agency’s methods are legal.
“In all investigations, the FBI obtains evidence in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the United States, and consistent with Attorney General guidelines,” said Allen.
“Our field offices work closely with US Attorney’s Office to adhere to the legal requirements of their particular districts as set forth in case law or court decisions/precedent,” he added.
Legislative efforts are currently underway to reform modern electronic privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
A bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, is now awaiting a vote by the full Senate.