America’s freedom of the press? Dream on

Disturbing post from Freedom of the Press Foundation (great new group, support them) on the serious threats from the Obama administration to transparency and democracy in America:

disturbing report in Saturday’s Washington Post describes an FBI investigation of a large number of government officials suspected of leaking classified information to the press, engulfing an unknown group of reporters along the way. The investigation includes data-mining officials’ personal and professional communications to find any contact with journalists. Just to be clear: It seems officials are being targeted for just talking to the press.

While the Obama administration has already shamefully prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined, this investigation—given its unprecedented scope and scale—has the potential to permanently chill both press freedom and the public’s right to know.

Last year, the New York Times reported on the computer virus known as Stuxnet that attacked Iran’s nuclear reactors and the broader Top Secret program cyberattack program code named “Olympic Games.” Around the same time, the Associated Press reported on an al-Qaeda double agent who allegedly foiled a terrorist attack. Both stories are subject to investigation.

Unlike other investigations, the FBI is not targeting one or even a few government employees, but is engaged in a wide-ranging fishing expedition. According to the Post’s anonymous source, the investigation engulfs “everybody—at pretty high levels, too. There are many people who’ve been contacted from different agencies.”

The net now seems to be cast over the entire government, and in return, the entire Washington press corp. The Post is reporting the FBI is using new, “sophisticated software to identify names, key words and phrases embedded in e-mails and other communications, including text messages, which could lead them to suspects.”

The surveillance gets even more invasive than that:

“The FBI also looks at officials’ phone records — who called whom, when, for how long. Once they have evidence of contact between officials and a particular journalist, investigators can seek a warrant to examine private e-mail accounts and phone records, including text messages, former prosecutors said.”

In addition to getting warrants anytime a government official has contact with the unknown number of “particular” journalists, FBI agents have been “confronting” officials when they find this information.

Talking to a reporter is not a crime. Having an association with a national security reporter from the New York Times or the AP should not give the authorities probable cause to spy on officials. To insinuate as such not only inhibits reporters from doing their job and prevents the American people from learning vital information, but is a violation of the government officials’ First Amendment rights.

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