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Government tracking of reporters’ calls “outrageous, frightening”

For Immediate Release:


David Carlson, President. (352) 846-0171, Carlson@spj.org

Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927 -8000, ext. 211, bking@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the federal government is tracking phone numbers called by journalists, it is outrageous, said David Carlson, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

An ABC News blog posting said that two of its reporters, Richard Esposito and Brian Ross, were told by an unnamed “senior federal law enforcement official” that the government had obtained records of calls placed by the reporters. The network said the probe may be focused on leaks about a CIA program to detain terrorism suspects at secret locations outside America, but it could also involve the network's reports on the spy agency's use of missile-firing Predator drones in Pakistan.

To view the blog, visit http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/05/federal_source_.html.

ABC did not assert that its reporters' conversations were being monitored but solely that the government had obtained information on whom reporters were calling.

A former counterterrorism chief at the CIA, Vincent Cannistraro, told The New York Sun Tuesday that FBI sources have confirmed to him that reporters' calls are being tracked as part of the probe.

“The FBI is monitoring calls of a number of news organizations as part of this leak investigation,” Cannistraro, who has worked as a consultant for ABC, said. “It is going on. It is widespread and it may entail more than those three media outlets.”

“If this is true,” Carlson said, “it is a sad commentary on the state of our nation.”

“Having the intelligence community monitoring Americans’ phone calls is not just outrageous,” Carlson said. “It’s frightening.”

“When the government of any nation surveils its own citizens, freedom is in peril,” he said.

“After journalists, who’s next? Do you want the government tracking the numbers of people you call? Do you want your boss or your mother or your spouse doing that?”

There are methods reporters can use to help keep phone numbers from being tracked. Disposable cell phones, pay telephones and Internet-based phone calls are just a few of the means some reporters have used to ensure anonymity. “But that shouldn’t be necessary,” Carlson said.

“A free and independent press is a necessary component in democracy. In a nation such as ours, there are few checks and balances against the federal system,” Carlson said.

“The media, and the government officials who tell of waste, misdeeds and illegal activity, are among the only ones. If we are to remain free, we must protect those checks and balances, and so must our government.”

Carlson is the Cox/Palm Beach Post Professor of New Media Journalism at the University of Florida.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.


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