SPJ: AP Phone Record Collection Highlights Need For Shield Law

Senate Judiciary rankikng member calls for explanation from White House, citing threat to free press
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Society of Professional Journalist President Sonny Albarado has condemned the Justice Department's alleged secret collection of AP reporter and editor phone records and said it highlights the need for a federal shield law.

"The Justice Department's secret acquisition of two months of the business and personal phone records of AP's reporters and other employees is shameful and outrageous," Albarado said in a statement.

"This incident proves once again the need for a federal Shield Law. Prosecutors, unlike reporters, have subpoena power to compel testimony, yet lazy prosecutors often prefer to go after reporters' notes and records rather than do the hard investigative work to dig out information without trampling on the First Amendment," he said.

SPJ has for years been pushing for a federal shield law, aided by a number of legislators including, notably, the late Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. Those attempts have been resisted by various administrations, including the present one, which has a reputation for being particularly aggressive in trying to ferret out leaks.

Elsewhere on the AP phone records front, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says the Obama Administration needs to explain how its gathering of phone records of AP journalists could be justified.

"The department's regulations state that prosecutors should obtain the Attorney General’s personal sign off when a free press is at stake, so the Obama administration needs to be transparent with its rationale for such a sweeping intrusion and detail whether the process outlined in regulation and the U.S. Attorney's manual were followed and justified for national security," he said in a statement.

Grassley released the statement late Tuesday (May 13) following the reports that the Justice Department as part of an ongoing probe of leaks, secretly obtained the records of reporters and editors for the news organization. The AP called it a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into newsgathering.

According to AP, the government has not told it why it wanted the phone records, but government officials have previously said they are investigating a leak to AP in a May 2012 story about a failed terrorist bombing plot.