Afrique Asie Europe Moyen-Orient Internet Nations unies
 
United States13 August 2008

FBI apologizes to newspapers for spying on reporters: the bureau does not explain the need to investigate journalists

Reporters Without Borders requests that the FBI releases more information about the procedures they used in 2004 to obtain reporters’ phone records while they were stationed at the New York Times and the Washington Post’s bureaus in Indonesia.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the apology the FBI made to the newspapers’ editors for improperly using the so-called ’exigent letters’ to obtain information about reporters’ phone conversations, but the bureau needs to come forward and provide more information as to why and how they obtained this information.

"We urge them to be transparent about the reasons to obtain the records with such urgency and secrecy," the press freedom organization said. "We urged the bureau to refrain from using similar procedures in the future. Improper monitoring of reporters is harmful to a free press and undermines the free flow of information"

New York Times reporters Ray Bonner and Jane Perlezy, and Washington Post staff writer Ellen Nakashima and researcher Natasha Tampubolon were working in South East Asia on a story about Islamic terrorism at the time their phone records were seized.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, who is reviewing the FBI’s procedures due to allege misuse of records demands, discovered mistakes the bureau made when phone records were requested. For instance, the FBI should have seek approval from the deputy attorney general, which they did not in this case.

The federal shield law passed by the House, the Free Flow of Information Act (FFOIA), states that a member of the media, or “covered person,” cannot be subpoenaed for a testimony unless dictated by a court. Section 2.(a)(1) of the FFOIA defines one of the exception to order a member of the media to testify as “... that the party seeking to compel production of such testimony or document has exhausted all reasonable alternative sources (other than a covered person) of the testimony or document.”

The FBI has not disclosed yet why they went after journalists’ phone records or the nature of the investigation at the time.

On Saturday, The Washington Post stated, “Mueller [Director of the FBI] called the top editors [at each paper] to express regret that agents had not followed proper procedures when they sought telephone records under a process that allowed them to bypass grand jury review in emergency cases."

“Exigent letters,” or National Security Letter (NSL), are sent to individuals or entities ordering to provide data or records to security government agencies such as the FBI or the CIA. The NSL, a form of administrative subpoena, does not require a judicial oversight and it also contains a gag order banning the recipient from ever disclosing that the NSL was issued.

Senators Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also issued a letter on Monday, August 11th, pressing the FBI to come forward with more information and an explanation about obtaining reporters’ phone records.

“While we commend you for personally apologizing to the newspapers on behalf of the FBI, and for personally bringing this matter to the Committee’s attention, we expect to receive a more complete accounting of this violation of the Justice Department’s guidelines intended to protect privacy and journalists’ First Amendment rights,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to FBI Director Robert Mueller.



In this country
14 May - United States
Arraignment of suspected mastermind of Chauncey Bailey’s murder postponed again
14 May - United States
Obama opposes release of torture photos
6 May - United States
“To combat Internet censorship, companies cannot be left to act on their own”
4 May - United States
Yusuf Bey IV indicted in Chauncey Bailey’s murder
2 May - United States
Reporters Without Borders welcomes President’s statement in honor of World Press Freedom Day

in the annual report
United States - Annual Report 2008
United States - Annual report 2007
United States - Annual report 2006


reports
14 March 2008 - Cuba
No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from “black spring”
5 June 2007 - Venezuela
Closure of Radio Caracas Televisión consolidates media hegemony
22 May 2007 - Colombia
Paramilitary "black eagles" poised to swoop down on press
archives

Americas press releases
3 June - United States
President Obama urged to raise freedom of expression in his Cairo speech
29 May - Venezuela
Open letter to President Hugo Chavez to protest about official hounding of Globovisión
27 May - Mexico
Crime reporter abducted and killed in Durango state
20 May - Cuba
Anyone can browse the Internet... unless they are Cuban
15 May - Cuba
Journalist gets three-year jail sentence

Americas archives
2009 archives
2008 archives
2007 archives
2006 archives
2005 archives
2004 archives
2003 archives
2002 archives
2001 archives
2000 archives

Sign the petitions
Cuba
Miguel Galván Gutiérrez
Cuba
Fabio Prieto Llorente
United States
Chauncey Bailey
A petition to Raúl Castro