U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the federal government could prosecute journalists for publishing classified information.
Speaking on ABC's This Week television program, the nation's top law enforcement officer said investigators are deciding on what he called "the appropriate course of action" regarding the New York Times newspaper's report about the government's warrant-less electronic surveillance program.
The Justice Department is investigating who leaked classified information about the program to reporters.
Gonzales said the government could obtain a court order to track reporters' telephone calls as part of a criminal leak investigation, but said such practices are not routine.
This week, ABC News said a federal official warned reporters that the phone numbers they dial are being tracked to identify their confidential sources.
Gonzales said there has been a misunderstanding about these activities.
The attorney general also said the the right of a free press in the United States does not trump the right of the federal government to prosecute criminal activity. Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.