NSA surveillance news report among Pulitzer contenders

Reports based on leaks by Edward Snowden are in the running for journalism’s highest honor

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A report that revealed the massive U.S. government surveillance effort is among the top finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Pulitzers, journalism’s highest honor, will be announced on Monday. Revelations about the spy programs were first published in The Guardian and The Washington Post in June.

The disclosures showed that the National Security Agency has collected information about millions of Americans’ phone calls and emails based on its classified interpretations of laws passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The documents revealed that telephone and internet companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have been cooperating with the government on these national security programs.

The stories were based on thousands of documents handed over by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The reports were published by Barton Gellman of The Post and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill of The Guardian, all of whom shared a George Polk Award for national security reporting.

The public was outraged to learn of the dragnet surveillance. And the disclosures have led to proposed overhauls of some U.S. surveillance programs, changes in the way the government spies on foreign allies, additional disclosures to defendants in some terrorism cases and demands from private companies to share details about government cooperation with their customers and shareholders.

Snowden has been charged with three offenses in the U.S., including espionage, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. He is currently living in Russia, which granted him asylum for one year.

In January, President Barack Obama called for some immediate changes to the phone records collection program, including that a secret court approve all of the searches the NSA does within the database before the search takes place. He also limited the number of phone records it could search to phone numbers a terrorist called and the numbers who those people called.

Last month, Obama called for an end to the government’s collection and storage of the records and said his administration would work with Congress to come up with a new program. Until then, the government will continue to collect and store millions of Americans’ phone records.

Other Pulitzer candidates include Andrea Elliott of The New York Times, who won a Polk Award for local reporting for “Invisible Child,” her five-part series focusing on Dasani Coates, one of 22,000 homeless children in New York City.

John Chichowski of The Record, a paper based in Woodland Park, New Jersey, wrote a piece Sept. 13 about an unexplained decision that week to close lanes in the community of Fort Lee leading to the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span.

The morning his article appeared, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered the lanes reopened. The article was the first thing that got attention of lawmakers who are investigating the closures as part of a scandal that has engulfed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The Pulitzers are given out each year by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of journalists and others.

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