Government - US Data Grab Raises First Amendment Questions
The US Justice Department indicted a long-time Senate Intelligence Committee staffer for allegedly lying to the FBI about his contacts with journalists, as part an investigation in which prosecutors also secretly seized years' worth of a New York Times reporter's phone and email records.
The seizure of a journalists communication records sets up serious questions about the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees press freedoms.
The indictment alleges 57-year old James Wolfe denied to investigators that he ever gave classified material related to the Intelligence Committee's work to journalists. But Federal prosecutors allege Mr. Wolfe made false statements to the FBI about providing two of them with sensitive information. One of them is New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, with whom he had been in a three-year relationship, and whose phone and email records were mined by the Feds.
Free speech and free press advocates consider the idea of confiscating a journalist's records to determine the identities of confidential sources to be an intrusion on First Amendment freedoms. New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said, "Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection."
Since the Feds' data grab goes way back to the years before Ms. Watkins worked for the Times, she reportedly informed her former employers - Buzzfeed News and the Capital Hill online magazine Politico - of the seizure. "We're deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter's constitutional right to gather information about her own government," said Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
The indictment against Mr. Wolfe also details another alleged incident in which he used an encrypted messaging app to alert another reporter that he had served a subpoena to testify before the committee to Carter Page, an associate of the orange clown Donald Trump whose name keeps popping up in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Prosecutors say after the leak was published, Mr. Wolfe allegedly wrote to the journalist to say, "Good job!" and, "I'm glad you got the scoop."