Government wiretapping signifies danger for press freedom

Last month, the Justice Department was caught secretly obtaining telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. The news organization’s top executive called it “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into the news business. Many media outlets have deemed it completely unconstitutional. As it is, the actions of the Justice Department amount to government abuse of power.

But these weren’t the only incidents the department has been involved in within the past month to receive criticism from the media. In addition to the wiretapping, the Justice Department has released an affidavit that labeled Fox News contributor James Rosen a “co-conspirator” for releasing information that pertained to national security.

 Rosen has been accused of leaking classified information to the public back in 2009 regarding the progress of North Korea’s nuclear program. The Department quietly got a warrant that allowed them to obtain a portfolio of Rosen’s visits to the State Department along with access to his personal emails. The Justice Department claimed that, by releasing the information to the public, Rosen jeopardized the safety of an inside source in North Korea, posed a serious risk of harm to our national security, and outright broke the law.

The Department took a very unusual step in the Rosen matter – however, how do we know if it’s not a widespread conspiracy against the American people?

According to Rick Brown, an instructor at DePaul’s College of Communication, the biggest problem in this incident is that the Justice Department didn’t consult with Rosen before he published his story.

“The issue here was there was never any dialogue with the news organization or with the reporter. They just obtained a warrant to look at his emails for (approximately) a 30-day period,” Brown said. “That’s troubling and infuriating for the freedom of the press … and chilling to think that reporters could have their documents looked at so surreptitiously by the government ‒ that’s the concern.”

Many journalists have been outspoken against the Justice Department’s action in seizing Rosen’s emails for violating the freedom of the press. It’s understandable that the Justice Department would not want any information to be released if it could put anyone’s life at risk. But to monitor journalists’ phone calls without their knowledge or any just cause is unconstitutional and outrageous.

A journalist’s job is solely to go out and report the facts for the public. If the Justice Department is monitoring a journalist’s progress or sources on a story, who’s to say the Department might not potentially cover up any sensitive information for political reasons?

The Justice Department’s behaviors in dealing with the AP and Fox News are a major cause for concern. Do we really want to live in a society resembling George Orwell’s 1984, where Big Brother is watching over our every move and controlling the press?