April 9th, 2012

Does Homeland Security Target Journalists for Search and Seizure?

An article published yesterday by Salon.com’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: editor@pdnoline.com.