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FBI impersonation of news media online called "inexcusable"

In a letter to Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr and FBI Director James B Comey Jr (above), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 25 news organizations have asked for full disclosure of the facts surrounding the FBI’s utilisation of a fake Associated Press article online.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 25 news organisations in a letter to US Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr and FBI Director James B Comey Jr have asked for full disclosure of the facts surrounding the FBI’s utilisation of a fake Associated Press article online that delivered tracking software to a suspect’s computer, enabling the FBI to locate him.

As the Reporters Committee letter pointed out, the warrant for such action apparently did not mention that the tracker was delivered as an AP article, with an AP byline “and therefore impersonated a news media organisation.” Concerned that the FBI not only failed to follow its own guidelines for such activity, but also did not make clear to the judge who signed the warrant or FBI counsel that the software “impersonated a media organisation or that there were First Amendment concerns at stake.”

It is also unclear whether the name of The Seattle Times was involved. “We call upon the FBI to immediately release the full records of this case so that the press and the public can ascertain what happened, what was subject to appropriate oversight, and what was not,” the letter stated.

“The utilisation of news media as a cover for delivery of electronic surveillance software is unacceptable,” the media coalition stated. “This practice endangers the media’s credibility and creates the appearance that it is not independent of the government. It undermines media organisations’ ability to independently report on law enforcement. It lends itself to the appearance that media organisations are compelled to speak on behalf of the government.

“We therefore urge the Attorney General and FBI to clarify that impersonation of the media is unacceptable, whether it is digital or physical, and whether it is of the individual or of an organisation.”

The letter closed with a request to the FBI to expedite release of records relating to its practice of digitally impersonating news media, as requested by a Reporters Committee Freedom of Information Act filing last week.

Joining the Reporters Committee letter were: American Society of News Editors; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; Bloomberg L.P.; The Center for Investigative Reporting; Committee to Protect Journalists; Courthouse News Service; First Amendment Coalition; Freedom of the Press Foundation; Gannett Co. Inc.; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; The McClatchy Company; Media Consortium; National Newspaper Association; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; The New York Times Company; The News Guild – CWA; Newspaper Association of America; North Jersey Media Group Inc.; Radio Television Digital News Association; The Seattle Times Company; Stephens Media LLC; Tribune Publishing Company; Tully Center for Free Speech; and The Washington Post.

Date posted: November 7, 2014 Last modified: May 12, 2018 Total views: 94