MIAMI, Florida (June 12, 2018)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today described as "a violation of the right to keep sources confidential" the seizure of telephone records, text messages and e-mails of The New York Times journalist Ali Watkins by the United States Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice confiscated Watkins' telephone, texts and e-mail records as part of an investigation into the leaking of classified information in which there was said to be involved a former member of the Senate's Intelligence Committee work group, James A. Wolfe, arrested and accused of lying to the FBI about his contacts with journalists.
IAPA President Gustavo Mohme said, "The Department of Justice action has negative effects for the practice of journalism and especially for the gathering of information of public interest coming from anonymous sources."
Mohme, editor of the Peruvian newspaper La República, declared that "situations such as this put in evidence the need that there be passed in the country a Shield Law at the federal level to protect news sources in case of leakages."
For his part the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, declared, "The judicial probe in this case is a violation of the right to keep sources confidential, something fundamental for the practice of a free press."
Rock, editor of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, recalled that the Department of Justice has expressed its opposition to a law that would protect sources and had already warned that it would investigate the disclosure of classified information to media and journalists by whistleblowers and officials close to the government.
The New York Times disclosed that Watkins, who had a romantic relationship with Wolfe for several years, in February received a letter from the Department of Justice informing her that it gathered the reports of 2014 to 2017 of two personal e-mail accounts and a telephone number. Watkins also worked for Buzzfeed, Político and McClatchy Company. The Department of Justice seized the data through Google and Verizon.
The IAPA and other press organizations has been denouncing the weakening of freedom of the press and of expression in the United States, due to the antagonism that President Donald Trump maintains to news media and journalists. This is the first case of seizure of news items since Trump assumed the Presidency in January 2017.
During the presidency of Barack Obama (2009-2017) there were recorded numerous legal proceedings regarding leakage of secrets to the press. At least eight journalists were jailed for not revealing their sources and in that period there was denounced the difficulty of accessing official sources of information.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.