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For Immediate Release
Oscar and Pulitzer Award-Winning Journalist Laura Poitras Sues U.S. Government To Uncover Records After Years of Airport Detentions and Searches
Poitras, Filmmaker Behind Snowden Documentary CITIZENFOUR, Searched and Questioned Every Time She Entered U.S. From 2006 to 2012
WASHINGTON -Academy and Pulitzer Prize Award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. transportation security agencies today demanding they release records documenting a six-year period in which she was searched, questioned, and often subjected to hours-long security screenings at U.S. and overseas airports on more than 50 occasions. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing Poitras in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, DOJ, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” said Poitras. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy. I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”
Poitras is a professional journalist who won an Academy Award this year for her documentary film “CITIZENFOUR” about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, shared in the 2014 Pulitzer for Public Service for NSA reporting, and is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. During frequent travel from 2006 to 2012 for work on her documentary films, Poitras was detained at the U.S. border every time she entered the country.
During these detentions, she was told by airport security agents that she had a criminal record (even though she does not), that her name appeared on a national security threat database, and, on one occasion, that she was on the U.S. government’s No Fly List. She’s had her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and reporter notebooks seized and their contents copied, and was once threatened with handcuffing for taking notes during her detention after border agents said her pen could be used as a weapon. The searches were conducted without a warrant and often without explanation, and no charges have ever been brought against Poitras.
After years of targeting by security agents, Poitras last year filed FOIA requests for records naming or relating to her, including case files, surveillance records, and counterterrorism documents. But the agencies have either said they have no records, denying or ignoring her appeals for further searches, or haven’t responded at all to her requests. For example, the FBI, after not responding to Poitras’ FOIA request for a year, said in May it had located only six pages relevant to the request—and that it was withholding all six pages because of grand jury secrecy rules.
“The government used its power to detain people at airports, in the name of national security, to target a journalist whose work has focused on the effects of the U.S. war on terror,” said David Sobel, EFF senior counsel. “In refusing to respond to Poitras’ FOIA requests and wrongfully withholding the documents about her it has located, the government is flouting its responsibility to explain and defend why it subjected a law-abiding citizen—whose work has shone a light on post-9/11 military and intelligence activities—to interrogations and searches every time she entered her country.”
The detentions ended in 2012 after journalist Glenn Greenwald published an article about Poitras’ experiences and a group of documentary filmmakers submitted a petition to DHS protesting her treatment.
“We are suing the government to force it to disclose any records that would show why security officials targeted Poitras for six years, even though she had no criminal record and there was no indication that she posed any security risk,” said Jamie Lee Williams, an EFF attorney and the organization’s Frank Stanton Legal Fellow. “By spurning Poitras’ FOIA requests, the government leaves the impression that her detentions were a form of retaliation and harassment of a journalist whose work has focused on U.S. policy in the post-9/11 world.”
Poitras’ documentary films include the 2006 Oscar-nominated “My Country, My Country”—a story about the Iraq war told through an Iraqi doctor and political candidate in Baghdad who was an outspoken critic of U.S. occupation. Poitras also directed and produced the Emmy-nominated “The Oath,” a 2010 documentary film about Guantanamo Bay prison and the interrogation of Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard days after 9/11. Poitras’ latest film, “CITIZENFOUR,” about Snowden and NSA mass surveillance, earned her a Director’s Guild of America Award and an Oscar.
Read the full complaint here: https://www.eff.org/document/poitras-foia-complaint
EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.
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Over six years, filmmaker Laura Poitras was searched, interrogated and detained more than 50 times at U.S. and foreign airports.
When she asked why, U.S. agencies wouldn’t say.
Now, after receiving no response to her Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to her systemic targeting, Poitras is suing the U.S. government.
In a complaint filed on Monday afternoon, Poitras demanded that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release any and all documentation pertaining to her tracking, targeting and questioning while traveling between 2006 and 2012.
“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras said in a statement. Poitras co-founded The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill.
She said she hopes to draw attention to how other people, who aren’t as well known, “are also subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders.”
Poitras has been the subject of government monitoring since 2006, when she was working on a documentary film, My Country, My Country, that told the story of the Iraq War from the perspective of an Iraqi doctor.
Airport security informed her that the Department of Homeland Security assigned her the highest “threat rating” possible, despite the fact that she has never been charged with a crime. She described the government’s inspection and forceful seizure of her notebooks, laptop, cell phone and other personal items as “shameful” in an interview with Democracy Now in 2012. On one occasion, security officers at the airport refused to allow her to take notes on her interrogation, arguing that her pen could be used as a weapon.
Poitras was only freed from the constant harassment after Glenn Greenwald published an article about her plight in 2012, and a group of filmmakers united to write a petition against the government’s monitoring.
Based on her earlier work, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden picked Poitras, along with Greenwald, to receive his archive of documents, which revealed massive worldwide surveillance by the U.S. and the U.K. Poitras won an Academy Award in 2014 for her documentary about Snowden, called CITIZENFOUR, and shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
In 2013, Poitras filed a Freedom of Information Act request to access any information about herself that the government used to determine that she was a danger to national security and worthy of intense scrutiny.
There is an immense backlog of unanswered FOIA requests across the government. Just this year, the number of unanswered FOIA requests swelled to over 200,000 — over 50 percent more than last year.
Poitras is being represented by lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. “The well-documented difficulties Ms. Poitras experienced while traveling strongly suggest that she was improperly targeted by federal agencies as a result of her journalistic activities,” EFF senior counsel David Sobel told the Intercept. “Those agencies are now attempting to conceal information that would shed light on tactics that appear to have been illegal. We are confident that the court will not condone the government’s attempt to hide its misconduct under a veil of ‘national security.’”
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images