Government spying to plug leak keeps citizens in dark

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As a newspaper, it is hardly a shock we are outraged at the Obama administration’s slimy practice of combing through phone records of a news organization.

But the public should be equally outraged. The phone record search has little do with the government needing the information in the records for national security (as claimed) and everything to do with silencing those with information the Obama administration doesn’t want to see become public. The intent was to plug information leaks.

The Justice Department began secretly subpoenaing phone records from four Associated Press bureaus after an AP story from last May about a failed al-Qaida plot. The search for phone records was extensive. About 20 phone lines were monitored in April and May of 2012, according to attorney David Schulz, who represents The Associated Press.

“There was no negotiation here; it was done without our knowledge and on a massive scale,” Schulz said. “It’s very troubling. The only really effective check you have on the government is a free press. For a fully functioning press to work, it needs sources” who can speak without fear of exposure.

This was, bluntly put, an old fashioned witch hunt designed to scare anyone who was even considering spilling the beans about what is going on inside the government — actually, inside our government.

Those working inside and outside government will certainly assume this sort of spying has been going on before the AP record search and it could likely go on after it. This could have a chilling effect on the ability of news organizations to gather accurate information. Who will talk to news organizations when it is possible those who talk could be fired or worse after the government traces the phone records to the news stories.

The AP’s attorney correctly called the phone-records search “a dagger at the heart of a free press.”

“It shouldn’t happen in a free society,” he said.

Yet, it does. And the more the press and other media are silenced, the more likely efforts to scare sources will occur.

Anybody, regardless of their political beliefs, can be a target. This isn’t about ideology, it’s about control and retaining power.

The Obama administration not only searched phone records, but it launched a Nixonian effort against conservative political groups by siccing the IRS on them. The abuse of power involving the IRS is equally disturbing, but the news that the acting commissioner of the IRS resigned on Wednesday was welcome.

Those running the government, whether Democrat or Republican, can too easily abuse their power if the people are unaware of what is going on. It should disturb the nation that the Justice Department was used to attempt to curb the flow of information to Americans.

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