No source is safe in SurveillanceWorld

ABC reports that its calls have been traced to identify leakers.

The quest for total control of communications marches on. Today, ABC News' Brian Ross and Richard Esposito write that they have confirmation that calls to the network's news reporters are being "backtracked" by the Federal Bureau Journalists' telephone calls are being targeted, ABC News confirms.of Investigation in order to identify sources that may be leaking information about the government.

In other words, when someone calls ABC, the FBI is looking to see if they are a government employee. Should a leak occur, the calls provide probable cause for additional investigation.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush Administration," a source told ABC. That, my friends, is Orwellian in its understatement. By dismissing the complex rules that have limited access to such information, the source makes the total access by the government seem benign, ordinary and unthreatening.

For sources that believe there is something the public should know, but isn't being told, it means ever-growing pressure to just shut up. Since almost everything is "classified" or "confidential" these days, including filings with the Food and Drug Administration, almost any communication by a federal employee to a reporter becomes immediately suspect.

The laws protecting whistleblowers are still formative, requiring there be some level of criminal wrong-doing involved to necessitate protecting the whistleblower who comes forward, but the Supreme Court has been very clear about the protections granted the press and why they are critical to liberty. Justice Hugo Black wrote in New York Times vs. United States of the protections afforded the press:

"The amendments [that became the 1st Amendment] were offered to curtail and restrict the general powers granted to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches.... Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell."

Given the White House's strategic use of leaks, it is especially ironic that executive power is being used to choke off whistleblowers. If Congress would start to do its job of overseeing the use of domestic monitoring of communications, this would not be so frightening.

The state of the nation today, however, when each day brings new revelations of domestic surveillance of telecommunications, makes this another terrible day in the growing chill on American debate, discourse, and freedom to communicate.