Tester to Holder: Justice Dept. ‘flagrantly crossed the line’

Senator decries seizure of press phone records, backs bill to better protect journalists

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is telling U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department “flagrantly crossed the line” when it seized Associated Press telephone records and placed journalists under surveillance.

Tester, a staunch defender of Americans’ civil liberties, accused Holder’s Justice Department of violating Americans’ right to privacy and ignoring the Constitution’s First Amendment that guarantees a free press.

“As reported, these actions represent a blatant violation of privacy, and directly interfere with the Constitutionally protected rights of the press to do its job free from government intrusion or direction,” Tester told Holder. “Such actions are not what Americans expect. And they’re not what Americans deserve.”

In response to the Justice Department’s actions, Tester today announced that he is co-sponsoring a “media shield law” that increases protections for journalists and prevents them from having to reveal their confidential sources unless exposure is in the public interest.

The Justice Department claims that it seized the phone records to investigate the source of leaked government information. Tester, a consistent opponent of the Patriot Act and REAL ID, said that any benefit to national security is outweighed by the damage done to civil liberties and the public’s trust.

“Protecting our nation’s security interests while respecting the civil liberties and privacy interests of our citizens often requires a delicate balancing act,” Tester said. “But in this particular matter, it seems clear that the Department of Justice flagrantly crossed the line. Such ill-advised actions create distrust in the American people. They also make it more difficult for agencies such as the Department of Justice to utilize all of the legitimate and legal tools at their disposal to keep us safe.”

Tester called for Holder to release the department’s legal justification for seizing the phone records and to announce what steps it would take to prevent future violations of Americans’ civil liberties.

Tester has repeatedly voted against the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act that expands the government’s ability to spy on law-abiding Americans.

2013-05-15 Letter to Attorney General by danmalessa