IFJ: Phone spying is 'a catastrophe for press freedom'

This week's allegations that intelligence
agencies in the United States and Germany obtained journalists'
telephone records and even tapped journalists' phones in the course of
leak investigations confirm a growing threat to press freedom in
democratic countries, the International Federation of Journalists has
warned.

In a statement, IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said:
"The news from the United States and Germany only confirms what we fear
about the threat to fundamental rights. What we are witnessing is a
catastrophe for press freedom and for civil liberties."

"The
reality of modern journalism is of illegal surveillance, direct
interference by intelligence services in the work of media, and of
unprecedented governmental pressure on independent journalism. In the
process democracy is put at risk."

In the United States, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito of ABC News reported on their blog, The Blotter,
that a US intelligence source had warned them that the FBI had obtained
their telephone records — along with those of reporters at the Washington Post and the New York Times — in the course of investigations into leaks at the CIA.

The
records were apparently obtained without a judicial warrant, using a
provision of American anti-terrorist legislation known as the Patriot
Act. The New York Sun reported on Tuesday that Vincent
Cannistraro, a former counterterrorism chief at the CIA, had had the
story confirmed to him by contacts within the FBI.

In
Germany, a leaked parliamentary report into the country's Federal
Intelligence Service, or BND, revealed that the agency had been spying
on journalists who were investigating the agency's activities in an
attempt to uncover their sources.

In one case, the leaked report
said, a journalist had been informed on by two fellow journalists, at
least one of whom was in the pay of the agency.

This week, the magazine Stern
reported that an electronic listening device had been found in the home
of one of its reporters. A freelance also came forward to admit that he
had been a BND informant while working at the newsmagazine Focus.

In
response to the growing scandal, the German government on Tuesday
banned the BND from using journalists as informants and declared its
intention to officially publish the classified parliamentary report.

"We
welcome the news that this sort of spying is to end in Germany, but we
note that the agency will still use journalists as contacts in foreign
operations," said White in the IFJ statement. "While the latest
information about the tracking of journalistic sources in the United
States clearly shows that across the democratic world there is an
unprecedented degree of interference in media. We can assume that this
is probably only the tip of the iceberg of pressure on journalism."

The
IFJ's major concern is that the ability of journalists to protect their
sources is being compromised as a result of the war on terror.

"Governments
everywhere are trying to enforce new standards of secrecy that are a
violation of press freedom and the peoples right to know," said White.

"It's
time for governments at national and international level to change
direction in favour of protection of fundamental liberties."

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