Erosion of press freedom

Hell hath no fury like a journalist snooped upon. Thankfully, it’s a public-minded kind of fury, in a case that throws light on the erosion of privacy and freedom of the press.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Justice Department had snared phone records from AP bureaus in New York, Hartford and Washington. The records are part of an ongoing criminal investigation into leaks that informed a 2012 AP story on the CIA’s successful operation to thwart an al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner.

The breadth of the records seized is just one troublesome component.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” AP Chief Executive Gary Pruitt said in a letter posted on its website.

The investigation also telegraphs the perils of a leak-obsessed administration. Nixonian paranoia is, well, just that. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia issued an underwhelming statement that it’s always “careful and deliberative” when it comes to freedom of the press. The administration might consult Seattle attorney Egil “Bud” Krogh, the former head of the Nixon White House plumbers (the crew that plugged press leaks), for a tutorial on right action and what happens when hubris swells into overreach, or worse.

“I worry that this appears to be an intrusion on the freedom of the press protected by the Constitution,” said 1st District Rep. Suzan DelBene, a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. “These are very serious actions taken by DOJ that could have broader First Amendment implications and we must make sure that government strikes the right balance between ensuring the free flow of information through the press and the fair enforcement of our laws.”

One remedy is an overdue update of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to prevent warrantless access to private emails and other electronic communications. DelBene, along with California Rep. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, is co-sponsoring legislation to align the old law with the 21st Century reality of Facebook and instant messaging.

On Wednesday, during Judiciary Committee questioning by DelBene and others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged the need for reform. “The more general notion of having a warrant to obtain the content of communications from a service provider is something that we support.” Good. An email must receive the same privacy protection as a letter (however much we prefer the printed word.)

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Feb. 18

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Editorial: Capital gains tax could offer property tax relief

A bill would use tax revenue to keep seniors in their homes and lower the state’s property tax rate.

Viewpoints: Does ‘target-hardening’ schools make things worse?

Emphasizing security has the potential to change how teachers, students and staff see one another.

Commentary: Fight opioid crisis through health, recovery

When the problems are mental illness and addiction, chasing crisis calls is costly and doesn’t work.

Commentary: Amazon not using its leverage to help LGTBQ cause

The retail giant was key to LGTBQ causes in Washington state, but it can do more in other states.

Parker: We’re the adults, but this kid is one making sense

David Hogg, 17, was one of those locked down during the school shooting. Listen to a future leader.

Robinson: This isn’t about mental health; it’s about the guns

There were warning signs about Nikolas Cruz, yet he was able to purchase a military-style weapon.

Harrop: Trump’s budget sows bitterness among U.S. farmers

The blueprint does several things that would hit farmers hard including a loss of crop insurance.

Ignatius: How U.S. can ‘get to yes’ with Turkey on Syria

Syria is riven by “converging forces with diverging interests,” warns a senior Pentagon official.

Most Read