Human rights are freedoms established by custom or international agreement that impose standards of conduct on all nations. Human rights are distinct from civil liberties, which are freedoms established by the law of a particular state and applied by that state in its own jurisdiction.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Spying on the Media and the US Congress: The AP Seizures and the Frightening Web They’ve Uncovered
“Paranoia,” said Woody Allen, “is knowing all the facts.” By that measure, we’re becoming more and more “paranoid” every day.
This week, we learned that the Obama Justice Department seized two months of records of at least 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters. These include phone lines in the AP’s New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn offices as well as the main AP number in the House of Representatives press gallery, the private phones and cell phones belonging to AP reporters and a fax line in one AP office.
The government effected this massive seizure “sometime this year” according to a letter from the Justice Department to AP’s chief counsel this past Friday (May 10).
The letter cites relevant “permission” clauses in its “investigative guidelines” and makes clear that it considers the action legal and necessary.
In many ways, this is the most blatant act of media information seizure in memory. It affects over 100 AP journalists and the countless people those journalists communicated with by phone during those two months. It violates accepted constitutional guarantees, the concept of freedom of the press and the privacy rights of literally thousands of people. Predictably and justifiably, press, politicians and activists have expressed outrage.
But as outrageous as the admitted facts are, the story’s larger implications are even more disturbing. It’s bad enough that the Obama Administration has grossly violated fundamental constitutional rights, acknowledged the violation and defended their legality. Even worse is that likelihood that the intrusion will probably be ruled legal, that it has been ongoing against other targets for some time and that this is only the tip of the intelligence-abuse iceberg.
The facts are still tumbling out daily but here’s what we know. While the Justice Department’s letter of notice to AP didn’t provide the reason for the seizure, the date of the seizure or the dates of the data seized, the timing hints strongly that this is tied to a major investigation of “whistle-blowing”. Last year, the AP used unnamed sources in a story about a Central Intelligence Agency effort to disrupt a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner. The AP, at the government’s request, held that story for several days but published it on May 7, 2012 after it was confident the plot had been foiled. Because the AP’s story ran a day before Federal officials were scheduled to announce their “victory”, it’s logical to assume Associated Press honchos knew the government would be unhappy.
So they were probably not surprised that, led by the U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, federal investigators spent a year aggressively searching for the people who leaked the information. That’s vintage Obama. With six government “whistle-blowers” in jail or being prosecuted, federal law-enforcers have prosecuted twice as many whistle-blowers as all previous Administrations combined over the course of two and a quarter centuries. But until now, the media-savvy Obama people have been careful to restrain their pursuit of the corporate press, limiting confrontations to an occasional request or demand for one source revelation.
That’s why these revelations are so shocking to media professionals and advocates. As AP’s CEO Gary Pruitt told Attorney General Eric Holder in his letter of complaint this week, “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-months period, provide a road map to AP’s news gathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
There, in a nutshell, is the problem. For the corporate media, there is still such a concept as “no conceivable right to know”. Up to now, part of Obama’s information policy has been that mainstream media qualifies for First Amendment protection but “alternative” journalists and the news organizations they work for, as well as bloggers, activists, writers and others who work independently of major news organizations and who use the Internet as the free vehicle of communications it was invented to be have absolutely no protections. Since 2009, this government is known to have taken action against Internet activists and truth-tellers: seizing servers, email records and virtually all forms of on-line communications and then prosecuting people in over a dozen cases based on some of those seizures. There’s been very little action taken against the corporate press, which for its part has largely ignored or blacked out any reporting on the government attacks on its smaller media competitors.
This “favored status” commercial media has enjoyed has now been trashed. The “protected press” is as exposed as the rest of us. In answering Pruit’s letter, the Justice Department said as much. “We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation,” U.S. Attorney’s Machen spokesman William Miller explained, in a remark that went way beyond the traditional exemption for protecting lives. He added, “…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.” More