What The AP Subpoena Scandal Means For Your Electronic Privacy

Brian Fung | Nextgov | May 15, 2013

The Justice Department’s snooping on journalists working for the Associated Press is an abuse of power in the broadest sense. But one reason the whole episode is controversial at all is because the Obama administration technically broke no rules.

By law, companies that cooperate with government investigations—such as the telecom operators the AP concludes gave up its phone logs—are protected from lawsuits. The immunity is built into a 2008 revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—which President Obama, then a senator, opposed before backtracking and endorsing it.

“I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program,” Obama said shortly after the legislative update passed the House.

The flip-flop enraged civil libertarians at the time, but Monday's revelation from DOJ reveals how far the government has come since the days when going after journalists meant subpoenaing them head-on and causing a public spectacle in the process.