Phone Taps in United States and Newsroom Spying in Germany “Confirm Civil Liberty Threats” Says IFJ

Systematic spying on journalists by security officials in both the US and Germany reveal how the global “war on terrorism” is becoming a catastrophe for civil liberties and press freedom says the International Federation of Journalists.

Yesterday, ABC News posted a blog about a senior federal law enforcement official telling the broadcaster that the US government is tracking the phone numbers called by their reporters in an effort to root out confidential sources. It has not yet been confirmed whether these actions are directly linked to the exposure last week of how the National Security Agency (NSA) database in America is tracking the phone calls of hundreds of millions of Americans.

At the same time, in Germany yesterday it was revealed that the German federal intelligence agency has been spying in news rooms and paying journalists to reveal their sources. This is only ‘the tip of the iceberg’ of pressure on media that threatens democracy everywhere, said the IFJ today.

“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,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “In the process democracy is put at risk.”

According to local sources, ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation. Reports suggest that ABC News coverage of the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland and reporting on the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan have apparently upset CIA officials.

While in Germany, the government has begun to pull the spies out of German media after a scandal erupted over reports that correspondents had been put under surveillance to stop leaks to the press. A government spokesman in Berlin yesterday announced that the security agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had been ordered not to undertake operative measures against journalists after revelations that the BND had monitored reporters and even paid journalists to spy on their colleagues.

“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 Aidan White. “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 last year published a detailed report on Journalism and the Threat to Civil Liberties arising from the global war on terrorism and warned that security concerns were being used as a cover for a wider and deeper attack on civil liberties around the world.

“The news from the United States and Germany only confirms what we far about the threat to fundamental rights,” said White. “What we are witnessing is a catastrophe for press freedom and for civil liberties.”

In particular, the IFJ says that the ability of journalists to protect their sources of information is being compromised. “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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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries