Journalists blast US gov’t over surveillance, data gathering

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SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Journalists gathering here for an investigative journalism conference criticized the Obama government over issues related to its habit of accessing newsroom information and surveillance.

Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at the Associated Press (AP), said the US government has been exercising “executive power without check.”

Without AP’s knowledge, the Justice Department has subpoenaed AP’s phone records as part of the government’s investigation on national security leaks. The accessed communication records were for AP’s 2012 coverage of a foiled bombing of a US-bound airline in Yemen.

Oreskes said they received a letter from the Justice Department a few week ago, informing them that their telephone records had been accessed.

The communication records, he said, is a “world map of our news gathering operations.”

“It is striking that as this exercise of executive power is happening, we are also getting the window into the government’s extraordinary capacity to gather communication records,” Oreskes said.

The AP editor was one of the speakers on the showcase panel The government’s war on leaks, one of the sessions at the 4-day investigative reporters and editors (IRE) conference conducted at the Marriott River Center here. The conference was attended by at least 1,200 reporters and editors from all over the world.

Author James Bamford, independent journalist Quinn Norton and session moderator Leonard Downie Jr. of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism | NewsDesk
Author James Bamford, independent journalist Quinn Norton and session moderator Leonard Downie Jr. of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism | NewsDesk

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said the US government has taken huge advantage of technology to serve its own agenda.

“They are doing this because they can,” said Dalglish, adding that “we have to be extremely vigilant.”

What the Justice Department did to Ap, according to Dalglish was “very remarkable” in terms of “breadth.”

She said what was done to AP was essentially not a subpoena but a search warrant.

The collection of communication records, according to Oreskes, was something that “we protested vehemently.”

In Washington on June 19, AP president and chief executive officer Gary Pruitt said “the actions of the DOJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this case.”

As a result, he said “some longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking with us — even on stories unrelated to national security. In some cases, government employees we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone. Others are reluctant to meet in person.”

Independent journalist Quinn Norton, one of the speakers, said the protection of the sources must be one of the major concerns—as it is a responsibility—of journalists.

“It is our job to help them,” she said, saying that that “it would be extremely bad for journalism if people know that we don’t take care of them.”

Oreskes said it is worrisome for the US government to be dictative of how journalists must practice the profession.

“It is our job to do the journalism that needs to be done. This idea that the government gets to decide what good journalism is just does not wash,” he said.

What the Justice Department did, he said, was a clearly a form of “interfering in our news gathering.”

He said: “The right to be a reporter, the right to do journalism, is something that we have to defend uniformally across everything… It is important to defend it wherever it happens.” | NewsDesk

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