Does Homeland Security Target Journalists for Search and Seizure?

An article published yesterday by’s Glenn Greenwald details the Department of Homeland Security’s repeated questioning and harassment of an American filmmaker when she has attempted to reenter the country after traveling overseas.

According to Greewald’s article, award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who has released two films of a trilogy about the War on Terror, has endured DHS interrogations nearly each of the 40 times she has tried to reenter the country since 2006, when her first documentary film about a Sunni opposition leader in Iraq was released.

Agents often wait for her at the door as she disembarks from international flights. Poitras, a US citizen, has been interrogated for hours, had her personal belongings and reporter’s notebooks seized, held and copied, and her laptop, phone and other devices searched and copied.

It is easy to imagine photojournalists who are working on projects that may be critical of the US government or its “War on Terror” suffering similar difficulties, and DHS’s treatment of Poitras should outrage any US journalist.

As Greenwald reports, Poitras is not alone in her experiences, but her systematic harassment has made traveling for her work miserable, and she has been forced to resort to other methods of transporting and transmitting her work in order to protect her privacy, her rights as a journalist, and the identities of her sources.

Writes Greenwald: “She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices. She uses alternative methods to deliver the most sensitive parts of her work — raw film and interview notes — to secure locations. She spends substantial time and resources protecting her computers with encryption and password defenses. Especially when she is in the U.S., she avoids talking on the phone about her work, particularly to sources. And she simply will not edit her films at her home out of fear — obviously well-grounded — that government agents will attempt to search and seize the raw footage.”

Greenwald’s article also notes that two pieces of legislation proposed by congresspeople aimed at limiting DHS’s power to question US citizens have gained zero traction.

The article is well worth the read for any photojournalists who are working overseas, especially those who are reporting stories on sensitive topics like America’s military actions.

If you’ve been detained or questioned by DHS because of your work and are open to sharing your story with the PDN audience, please comment below or send an email to:

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7 Responses to “Does Homeland Security Target Journalists for Search and Seizure?”

  1. Kim Says:

    our u.s. elected officials disgust me on so many levels. Unless someone has done something illegal against our government, our people, then leave our u.s. Citizens alone. Little things like this (taking liberties with even a single u.s. Citizen) dwindles and whittles away our constitutional god given (u know what I mean ) rights. If we allow bullshit like this to continue, and turn a blind eye, we will all be sheep lead to slaughter. Wake up, we are americans goddamnit. … this shit takes me to the edge. These are the worst times our planet has seen, stand up if you want to live, douchers, rise against the machine we all created….

  2. xo Says:

    The last time I came back from Iraq, the homeland security guy checking my passport actually saluted me (although on one other occasion I was handed an ominous red folder and sent to an office, but then when I arrived, the guard told me I shouldn’t have gotten a red folder, because I was an American citizen). That being said, this article doesn’t show the greatest grasp of the American legal system. Warrants (for search, seizure, and arrest) must (according to the 4th amendment) issue only upon probable cause. Border searches do not require probable cause (generally speaking, there are some specific legal rules here that are a bit more complicated) because of the federal interest in controlling people and things entering through its borders. The only way (generally) that the state or federal government could search the filmmaker’s house is if they had a search warrant, and the only way they could get a search warrant is if they had probable cause to believe that she had committed a crime (and could convince a neutral and detached magistrate of the same). My point is that from these facts, it does not seem that her fear of having her materials seized at her home are well founded (unless she is committing some kind of crime, and as you should know, criticism of the government probably doesn’t count, as it is most likely political speech and so protected by the first amendment). Just saying, in the interest of accurate reporting, maybe have someone who went to law school look at / fact check these articles before posting them and freaking everyone out.

  3. Andre Says:

    In response to what xo stated (and I quote),

    “unless she is committing some kind of crime, and as you should know, criticism of the government probably doesn’t count, as it is most likely political speech and so protected by the first amendment)”

    …is at best a naive statement and at worst a disinformation tactic put out by the government.

    With the recent signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) it has effectively destroyed an American citizen’s right to due process rights. Under the act, it gives the government the ability to to describe anyone as a ‘belligerent” and grants them the power to kidnap any American anywhere in the United States and hold him or her in prison forever without trial.

    So, criticizing the government may not be a crime (yet) but it does make you a target if what you are saying embarrasses or exposes the many crimes the government has committed – especially if you are a film maker dealing with subjects the government considers politically sensitive.

    If the U.S. really was the home of the free, then the NDAA would never have been put into effect let alone conceived of. Nor would they constantly harass a citizen for doing what they are lawfully allowed to do.

    And now with NDAA allowing the government to invade your home and drag you off never to be free again for an offence that you cannot dispute – can anyone really say the filmmaker’s fear is unfounded?

  4. dbltapp Says:

    Dis this also happen during the previous administration?

  5. XO Says:

    Hi Andre, thanks for your thoughts on this matter.
    Am I to understand that you are really suggesting that this country no longer has due process? Also, are you seriously suggesting that I am a government agent attempting to “spread disinformation”?
    To address the former:
    I can tell you sir, as someone who works in the criminal defense community, that due process is alive and well. Respectfully, I would encourage you to visit any criminal courthouse and take note of the fact that everyone catching a DUI is not being subjected to permanent labor camp duty somewhere in North Dakota. That being said, I have not read, nor am I an expert in the statute you refer to, but I am not aware of any cases in which an American film maker, journalist, photographer, or really any American citizen (with maybe one exception) has suffered a loss of due process protections provided by the 4th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.
    To address the latter: I believe it is beneath my dignity to respond to such a bizarre accusation, and I would further note that suggesting that all people who might disagree with one are nefarious government agents, is not widely recognized as an appropriate discussion or debate tactic.
    Finally, the law is complicated. If you are interested in understanding it better; I would respectfully suggest that you might be a fine candidate for law school. If you have already attended law school, I would be thrilled to hear what your Con law professor had to say about your opinions regarding due process. My view is that we have enough uninformed opinions about the legal system in this country (god help me if I have to hear another person screaming about how the health care bill is “unconstitutional!”, who could not explain what the necessary and proper clause, or the commerce clause were if their life depended on it…)

    Best of luck

  6. Department of Homeland Security Violating Fourth Amendment? « Britney DeAnn's Photo Blog Says:

    […] my day I’m constantly checking the stream of blogs I follow. A recent article from PDN “Does Homeland Security Target Journalists for Search and Seizure?” redirected me to original article  ”U.S. Filmmaker Repeatedly Held at Border” […]

  7. mike penney Says:

    Members of Congress I know (3 of them) are not too happy with ICE or Homeland Stupidity.

    So I think you will see some “reigning in” of HSA and ICE at some point after the election… I get the impression both republicans and democrats are kind of in agreement…

    But ultimately Congress did give them too much money and rope to hang folks….

    Obama is not stepping up to the plate as I expected to keep things constitutional.