Defenders of the Justice action argue that phone records tell very little. But an enterprising and ethically challenged intelligence agent could have a field day with this sort of data. And it may have absolutely nothing to do with national security. Sources contact The AP with all manner of tips and information.
But perhaps they won’t in the future if they worry someone in government is going to be able to track them down and expose them. That’s the real danger of using heavy-handed tactics to scoop up the records of news organizations.
The revelation regarding The AP’s phone records has caused quite a dustup in Washington, with Republicans attacking the Obama administration for what happened. Interestingly, the president turned around and renewed his support for a federal shield law that would help to protect journalists from such government intrusion in their activities.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has reintroduced shield law legislation in Congress. It will be interesting to see if lawmakers who are attacking the administration are willing to back that up with votes to protect the press.
They should. This isn’t about one national security incident. This is about the ability of a free press to do its job and ultimately hold government accountable. If the powers that be can frighten sources into silence, all Americans suffer.
Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.