Spying on the Press: Beyond the AP

How far does the surveillance go?


Julian Sanchez asks whether the AP scandal is an unprecedented anomaly or something worse:

Don't mind me, I'm just an enthusiastic consumer of the news.

It wouldn't be surprising if there were more cases like this we've never heard about. Here's why: The Justice Department's rules only say the media must be informed about "subpoenas" for "telephone toll records." The FBI's operations guidelines interprets those rules quite literally, making clear the requirement "concerns only grand jury subpoenas." That is, these rules don't apply to National Security Letters, which are secret demands for information used by the FBI that don't require judicial approval. The narrow FBI interpretation also doesn't cover administrative subpoenas, which are issued by federal agencies without prior judicial review. Last year, the FBI issued NSLs for the communications and financial records of more than 6,000 Americans—and the number has been far higher in previous years. The procedures that do apply to those tools have been redacted from publicly available versions of the FBI guidelines. Thus, it's no shocker the AP seizure would seem like an "unprecedented intrusion" if the government doesn't think it has to tell us about the precedents. And there's no telling if the Justice Department rules (and the FBI's interpretation) allow the feds to seize without warning other types of electronic communications records that could reveal a journalist's e-mail, chat, or Web browsing activity….

The real scandal may be just how much snooping on the media the current rules permit. To fully understand the AP seizures, the media and the public need a clearer picture of the rules governing all forms of spying on media—and how often such info-grabs have happened. Maybe the seizure of AP records is an extraordinary case. Or maybe the only extraordinary thing is that we're hearing about it.

Read the rest here.

NEXT: Robert Gibbs Explains Why He Doesn't Read Maureen Dowd Anymore

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  1. Gee whiz, welcome to 2002.

    The government has always maintained that records held by third parties are not ‘your’ papers in a Fourth Amendment sense. You had better accept that whatever electronic records you have out there in the cloud are effectively public information.

  2. I think Greenwald’s piece on the surveillance of that Fox News reporter helps inform this subject:


    Greenwald, Fox and Drudge all pissed off at once.

  3. Of course Obama had nothing to do with this. He was off lowering the ocean levels.

    1. “Turn back tides, I command it!”

  4. BTW, what the fuck is up with the Justice Department thinking it’s some big intelligence secret to come up with specious guesswork bullshit hypothetical analyses of their potential reaction to sanctions?

    I could have given you the same analysis after half a six pack of Old Milwaukee.

  5. There are two scandals. One is how, after 9/11, the government spied on US citizens without a warrant or anything, especially on their phone and e-mail conversations, to an almost unlimited extend. The other scandal is how the mainstream media remained silent on that as long as the government did not target reporters.

  6. AP is a corporation. Corporations make profits. Therefore the AP deserves to be spied on by a progressive government.

    This is in the comments.

    1. I hope you’re kidding.

      1. I’m afraid he’s not. Though I’m not sure the commenter there wasn’t just trolling.

        1. I’m not up on the culture of Mother Jones comments so I can’t be sure w/o a bit of time-wasting. He has “likes” but I suppose they could be for clever trolling.

      2. If we had a responsible press it be worth defending their freedom. But we have a media business that makes money selling slime and hate, so I’m not too concerned about their “freedom” to be assholes.

        One commenter keeps repeating it but he has many “likes”.

  7. Why would Justice keep the snooping a secret? It’s hard to intimidate potential future whistleblowers if they don’t know their communications with reporters are going to be intercepted by state agents.

  8. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new…..ycoon.html

    These losers and their homeschooling. How the hell can someone be successful without 12 years of government education?

  9. The talking point making the rounds is that the governments most important job is to keep us safe. The unfortunate reality is that most Americans will accept that. The old saying about trading liberty for security won’t even enter their minds, especially when the issue regarding the AP is sort of complicated and doesn’t directly affect them.

    1. the part about safety being govt’s biggest job is what happens when something is repeated often enough that it becomes accepted as fact. And most people don’t care what happens until some action impacts them directly. It’s like the press and the AP story; reporters finally got outraged over this imperial administration when their ox was the one being gored.

  10. OT: http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_n…..tands?lite

    Steve Benen: Rand Paul is just a conspiracy nut; no need to ever take him seriously.

    1. By the way, in that opening paragraph, as evidence of Rand Paul’s conspiratorial tendencies, Benen links to three of his own Maddow Blog articles, which amount to nothing more than his own weird and dismissive interpretations of Rand Paul’s previous statements.

      But that thing about the toilets (linked to NY Times) isn’t actually a conspiracy theory. The Energy Department actually does want to tell you to buy faulty toilets.

  11. A couple of minutes ago, Talking Head A asked Talking Head B which currently active scandal the administration was most focused on.

    The response? The IRS.

    Because (my analysis) the IRS scandal is explicitly political, and this administration is focused pretty much solely on political considerations. Because that’s all they understand.

  12. Speaking of Rand Paul, did anybody else see that disgusting manatee Candy Crowley trying to gotcha him on his comments regarding Hillary?

    1. Nope. What now?

    2. I blame “no wake” zones.

  13. We’re pointing a gun at our democracy.

    Why am I alarmed? Because two “scandals” — the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice’s tapping of reporters’ phones — have become lynch parties. And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself.

    1. /migraine/

    2. ah, yes; the scare quotes to let those of in flyover land that these alleged scandals aren’t really scandals at all. They’re just SOP in the political arena which, if true, is even worse.

      Too bad Brazille is not so much worried about the open disdain for the law exhibited by the administration she slavishly supports.

      Hey…is using ‘slavishly’ here racist?

    3. If “Republicans do it too” is correct than a “bipartisan solution”, as suggested by Ms Brazile, is the last thing we want.

    4. “And that, according to acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who just resigned, the problem started because the Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United decision created a surge of requests by political groups for tax-exempt status.”

      Oh, we should be listening to the official statement from the IRS commissioner. Here I was, discovering that the “This is all an unintended consequence of Citizens United!” excuse is patently false and that the political targeting began before there was ever a surge in applications.

    5. Danger! Proof that our leaders are untrustworthy is undermining trust in our leaders!!

  14. “National Security Letters.” What a fucking disgrace that those things even exist.

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