Journalists’ telephone records are available to FBI without court involvement by issuing National Security Letters, or NSLs, according to classified records obtained by The Intercept last week.
"The fact that the Justice Department has secret rules to identify journalists' confidential sources shows that the DOJ has been disingenuous in its public statements about investigating members of the media," Cope stated.
The Justice Department's public guidelines, Cope noted, generally require attorney general approval before subpoenas, court orders and warrants may be issued for journalists' records.
"This is plainly contrary to both the letter and spirit of the DOJ's public guidelines," Cope argued. "It is all the more concerning because NSLs are not subject to judicial oversight and usually prohibit recipients from saying that they have received one, or notifying customers that they are the target of an NSL."
Cope argued that NSLs violate the First Amendment to eth US Constitution, and provide the Justice Department with a tool for circumventing free press protections it claims to uphold in its public guidance.
The FBI’s new rules took effect in October 2013, according to the report, about five months after the FBI acknowledged that its agents had obtained phone records of reporters from Fox News and other media outlets. But news reports at the time indicated that court orders were involved in accessing the reporters’ records.