The Associated Press on Monday accused the Justice Department of secretly logging months of phone calls made by its reporters, decrying the move as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" on the rights of the Fourth Estate.
In a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote: "We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news."
AP lawyers said the records were obtained by US authorities as part of an unknown investigation that breached 20 AP phone lines early last year.
The Associated Press was notified of the breach by letter on Friday. The Justice Department reportedly did not contact AP before secretly recording the phone calls for two months, taking down the length of the conversation as well as the outgoing and incoming numbers used by AP phone lines in the House of Representatives and a number of other major US cities.
According to Pruitt, there is "no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters," arguing that "the government has no conceivable right to know" the information gained in this manner.
He demanded action, requesting that the data be returned "immediately" and ordering the department to destroy all copies.
"We also ask for an immediate explanation as to why this extraordinary action was taken, and a description of the steps the Department will take to mitigate its impact on AP and its reporters," wrote Pruitt.
There was no immediate response from the Justice Department as to why they subpoenaed the records -- or who signed off on it -- only that it was connected to a criminal investigation.
The AP reported the April and May 2012 phone records may have been collected as part of an investigation into a story based on leaked information that included details about a foiled terrorist and a CIA operation in Yemen.
The White House plead ignorance on Monday, with spokesman Jay Carney telling AP: "We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department."