Secret Rules Make it Pretty Easy for the FBI to Spy on Journalists
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of The Intercept
Posted: July 3rd, 2016
Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists phone records with approval from two internal officials - far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures. The classified rules ... govern the FBIs use of national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. Obtaining a journalists records with a national security letter (or NSL) requires the signoff of the FBIs general counsel and the executive assistant director of the bureaus National Security Branch. The Obama administration has come under criticism for bringing a record number of leak prosecutions and aggressively targeting journalists in the process. In 2013, after it came out that the Justice Department had secretly seized records from phone lines at the Associated Press and surveilled ... reporter James Rosen, then-Attorney General Eric Holder tightened the rules. The FBI could not label reporters as co-conspirators in order to try to identify their sources - as had happened with Rosen - and it became more difficult to get journalists phone records without notifying the news organization first. Yet these changes did not apply to NSLs. Those are governed by a separate set of rules. The FBI issues thousands of NSLs each year, including nearly 13,000 in 2015. Over the years, a series of Inspector General reports found significant problems with their use, yet the FBI is currently pushing to expand the types of information it can demand with an NSL.
Note: The aggressive pursuit of leaks and journalists that report them led BBC to recently ask: "Is the US government at war with whistleblowers?" Read more about the FBI's use of secret National Security Letters. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on media manipulation and the disappearance of privacy.