Sources in the AP said the justice department gathered records for over 20 different phone lines associated with the news agency, including reporters' mobiles, office and home lines. Slamming the move as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion", AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt sought an explanation from the justice department on the move.
He also asked the government to return the phone records and destroy all other copies of the information.
Pruitt said such a n act could not have any justification, adding that the government did not have any right to know the private news-gathering activities of the AP during a two-month preiod.
He also accused the government of violating the news agency's constitutional rights to gather and report th news.
The justice department did not explain why it had carried out such an act although the AP suspected that the interference might have taken place as an attempt to find out who in the government leaked information about an aborted Yemeni terror plot that was published as a story on May 7 last year.
AP sources said that phone records for five reporters and one editor who worked on that story were among those gathered by the government.
Besides the legal fraternity, American Civil Liberties Union has strongly condemned the act as an "unacceptable abuse of power".