The Justice Department seized records of 20 phone lines used by reporters or editors for the Associated Press to gather information for a leak investigation involving a 2012 AP story about a counterterrorism operation in Yemen, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Justice Department notified AP on Friday that records had been subpoenaed from telephone companies several months ago. The subpoenas covered a two-month period around the time AP wrote the story about an alleged conspiracy to detonate an underwear bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner.
The breadth of AP phone logs sought went beyond the searches used by the Justice Department in known past cases. AP denounced the effort as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice into the news-gathering activities” of the company. The AP is a cooperative that serves member news outlets and customers including websites, newspapers, and television and radio stations. The U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., said Justice Department policies require the office to make “every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for phone records of a member of the media.” Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union called the government’s move “an unacceptable abuse of power.”