Today, political writers across America are freaking out about the news that the Obama Administration conducted surveillance of Fox news reporter James Rosen, upon suspicion that Rosen was involved in a criminal leak of classified information. Over at Salon, Natasha Lennard breathlessly wrote that, “In the case of Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent James Rosen, the DOJ not only tracked his phone records, but obtained a warrant to view his personal emails and even obtained “security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department.”
These allegations sound serious, and so, we should deal with them in a serious manner – without groundless speculation and hyperbole. Let’s look at Lennard’s claims one by one.
1. The Obama Administration seized James Rosen’s phone records.
If this allegation is true, it’s one more example of a grave problem: The Obama Administration has followed George W. Bush’s practice of seizing private telephone information, without search warrants, of huge numbers of Americans, journalists and non-journalists. We’ve criticized the seizure of phone records from the Associated Press, but in the larger scale, we’ve been long-term critics of the FISA Amendments Act. The FISA Amendments Act has been used for years by both Bush and Obama to unconstitutionally grab Americans’ private telephone and Internet communications without notification and without search warrant. James Rosen’s organization, Fox News, has been an enthusiastic supporter of this surveillance. It seems hypocritical of Fox News to complain now simply because it’s learned that one of its own reporters has been targeted.
2. The Department of Justice “obtained a warrant to view his personal emails”, which is exactly how things are supposed to work. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit government search and seizure. It prohibits unreasonable search and seizure without a search warrant. In the case of James Rosen’s emails, a search warrant was obtained, and the search was conducted in response to evidence that James Rosen was involved in a serious crime. So, what’s the problem?
3. The Department of Justice obtained access to State Department logs of when James Rosen checked in at the State Department, using a security badge he had been granted with the explicit understanding that if he wanted to use the badge to gain access to State Department officials, he would let the government know that he was doing so.
This is the most idiotically hyped up element of the James Rosen surveillance scandal. Here we have a reporter who is complaining that the Obama Administration gained access to information that the reporter voluntarily gave to the Obama Administration. It’s not private activity when a person uses a government-issued security badge to go to federal government offices. It’s information that belongs to the federal government, to be used to maintain security, which is exactly what was being done when the Obama Administration accessed Rosen’s security badge information to investigate the illegal spread of classified information.
If you don’t like the securty badge policy, okay. Agitate to eliminate the use of security badges for journalists as an unconstitutional violation of the Freedom of the Press. James Rosen wasn’t doing that. He agreed to submit to the process without protest. Now he’s peeved that the process he approved of was put into action.
In general, political journalists in Washington D.C. are coming off looking as short-sighted and self-serving as Fox News and James Rosen. Almost none of them wrote in protest against laws like the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, because those laws didn’t appear to be specifically targeted against journalists. Even now, American journalism is focusing on abuse of reporters’ privacy exclusively, continuing to ignore the growth of a larger Homeland Security juggernaut. Journalism’s attitude seems to be that it deserves special protections, while other Americans cannot reasonably expect to keep their ordinary, fundamental constitutional rights.
Reporters, if you’re angry about Barack Obama’s continuation of George W. Bush’s seizure of unconstitutional powers of search and seizure, you should take that outrage, and use it to defend the Fourth Amendment rights of ALL Americans, rather than only complaining about the violation of your own constitutional rights.