No, the government should not have seized Ali Watkins' information

The situation involving the Justice Department and New York Times reporter Ali Watkins is extremely disturbing, and another example of the government deciding to intrude on the activities of the press. It really is akin to the Obama Administration seizing the phone records of Associated Press journalists at State Department or the almost prosecution of former Fox News reporter James Rosen. Jazz wrote about this earlier today and, while I completely respect and understand his opinion, I think he’s wrong.

Government has long feared the press. Yes, they’ll play nice with it from time to time but, ultimately, they fear the press because it’s got power. The media can inform the public what’s going on inside the hallowed halls of government. It can also shape and drive public opinion whether it be through its news coverage or with opinion and analysis. Journalism is also not restricted to those who have fancy business cards with The New York Times or ABC News stamped on them, but those with access to the Internet. This website wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a free and open press. Breitbart, The Daily Beast, Gateway Pundit, and Washington Free Beacon wouldn’t exist without a free and open press. There are obviously those who want to utter the phrase “just a blogger,” to dismiss whatever opinion anyone here might have, but the facts are still the same: government fears the press.

It’s probably why the government can use the media to advance its own agenda. There are times the government will let information leak out as a trial balloon of some kind to get public opinion. It’s easier to do orchestrated leaks instead of announcing things through some news release. This way government officials can pin it as, “just an idea” or “Oh, so-and-so just mentioned it in passing…we’re really not considering it.” It’s also a way government can passive aggressively threaten foreign countries about potential actions without coming off like some strong-arm authoritarian.

It’s also why the government tries to weed out those who are feeding information to the media. They want to be the ones who decide who finds out what’s going on, not outlets and journalists themselves. Government wants to be the arbiter and spigot of data for public consumption. It’s why every single report about government prosecutors seizing the phone records of a reporter end up being new after the fact.

Look at the situation involving the Obama Justice Department and James Rosen. We didn’t find out he was considered a co-conspirator in the case involving Stephen Jin-Woo Kim until two years after the search warrant had been issued for Rosen’s personal email. Rosen told Fox News he’d never been contacted by the government over the issue.

A similar situation happened with the Obama Administration and the Associated Press. AP President Gary Pruitt sent a letter to the administration condemning the seizure because DOJ didn’t let them know until some time after it had happened.

That the Department undertook this unprecedented step without providing any notice to the AP, and without taking any steps to narrow the scope of its subpoenas to matters actually relevant to an ongoing investigation, is particularly troubling.

The sheer volume of records obtained, most of which can have no plausible connection to any ongoing investigation, indicates, at a minimum, that this effort did not comply with 28 C.F.R. §50.10 and should therefore never have been undertaken in the first place. The regulations require that, in all cases without exception, a subpoena for a reporter’s telephone toll records must be “as narrowly drawn as possible.” This plainly did not happen.

Both of these situations are similar to the one involving Watkins because it is plainly evident the government grabbed her information without notifying her of the warrant. The Constitution is extremely clear in the Fourth Amendment when it comes to searches and seizures.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Watkins didn’t know. Rosen didn’t know. The Associated Press didn’t know. Will the next organization to be subpoenaed even find out after the fact or will it take some leaker to reveal what happened? Will the public even find out this is going on or will the news be hidden as to not “please the Crown” to quote a sarcastic comment by a friend of mine over unconstitutional government intervention. There is no reason for the federal government to have seized these records unless they believed the reporters were spying for a foreign power. There’s no evidence of that. All they were doing were their jobs.

The Department of Justice should be ashamed of itself, right now. Odin knows I sure am.