Oscar-Winner Laura Poitras Sues After U.S Ignores FOIA Request
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 Security 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
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
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
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.’”