Recently, we witnessed four instances of government seizures of private information against the owner’s will. One seizure looks like a genuine probe into reporting that could disruption anti-terrorism measures. Another two seizures were nominally about criminal investigation but they are more convincingly explained as staunchly embarrassing and targeting Fox News.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) seized ex-federal prosecutor Dennis K. Burke’s communications with reporters at Fox News. Burke gave Fox additional details on DoJ’s botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning. DoJ’s record seizure suggests there may be additional embarrassments that DoJ wants suppressed.
In another case, James Rosen, a Fox News reporter revealed that North Korea would respond to a UN condemnation for nuclear tests by doing another nuclear test. Even without a leaker’s tip, that conclusion was obvious to any policymaker paying attention. But since it was mentioned in a classified document, law enforcement used a subpoena to obtain Rosen’s emails and they now considered him a ”coconspirator” in the crime of leaking classified information.
Earlier in 2013, law enforcement seized records for 20 telephone lines used by AP reporters. “Records” usually mean the date, time, calling number and called number, but not content from the call – it’s different from a “wiretap” where the conversation or data exchange is obtained. The unstated, but likely leak was about the CIA disrupting a Yemen-based plot to bomb an airplane. The DoJ stated it was not targeting the reporters. Indicting a reporter is optional. Unlike in the Rosen case, the intelligence leaked to AP was not trivial and could aid terrorists, but it did not involve Fox News.
The IRS conducted a campaign of harassment against conservative groups seeking legitimate and common classification of 501(c)(4), i.e. tax exempt non-profit. That federally-funded campaign is pure political bias deserving a serious penalty. Next, the IRS leaked confidential information from the aspiring conservative interest groups to the liberal-leaning ProPublica. Presumably the IRS thought ProPublica would join in its strategy of hobbling conservative activists.
There is inconsistency, irrationality and bias evident in government seizures or misuse of private information. We favor legitimate information seizures to nail real criminals but not seizures that are politically-driven, or used to cover up policy errors or embarrassments.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research