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Justice Department subpoena of AP phone records unites left, right in opposition to ‘Big Brother’
The revelation that the U.S. government used secret subpoenas to pry into Associated Press reporters’ phone records triggered two contradictory reactions in the political world.
“What the subpoenas did was remind the left that the right has reasons to fear big government and remind the right and left of the objectives they share politically,” said Joe Miller, the Alaska conservative who was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate last year.
For conservatives, the phone-records story fortified their fear that, despite the best of intentions, government by its nature will tend to erode the freedom of the individual — and almost always in the name of protecting the collective good.
That conservative fear is one that liberals tend to regard as verging on paranoia.
Yet this latest Justice Department action — an action that for many on the right confirms long-held concerns about big government — is also, paradoxically, bringing conservatives and liberals together. Both ideologies, after all, share an interest in defending the freedom of the individual.
Both sides think the Justice Department spread a huge net over hundreds of fish in the hope of catching the right one — in this case the leaker of a May 2012 story that the CIA had foiled a terrorist airline bomb plot.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which conservatives tend to regard as ultra-liberal politically, immediately denounced the U.S. Justice Department’s secret subpoenas of AP phone records as an “unacceptable abuse of power” and said Attorney General Eric Holder should “explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again.”
Conservatives said it was the Obama administration going to the same intrusive excesses in the name of fighting terrorism as the previous Bush administration, which pushed through Congress the Patriot Act that many GOP conservatives and other civil liberties champions opposed.
“Liberals, libertarians and conservatives like me have been critical of — and in fact opposed — to the post-9/11 Patriot Act and its intrusive measures,” Mr. Robinson said. “Federal police used terrorism as an excuse to demand and get every intrusive police measure on their list of desires, all the while assuring us that if we just trust them, all will be administered fairly and reasonably. Liberals suspended disbelief when their hero, Barack Obama, was elected. Now surprise, the liberals find their ox gored, too.”
Civil libertarians on the right and left have argued that it was precisely to prevent such widespread searching and fishing expeditions that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution demanded “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In that sense, the Fourth Amendment was an anti-fishing expedition amendment.
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole told the AP the subpoenas “were limited in both time and scope.”
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About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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