‘Citizenfour’ Director Laura Poitras Sues Homeland Security, Justice Department Over Alleged Harassment

Filmmaker says she was subjected to extra scrutiny while traveling

Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, whose “Citizenfour” film about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden won an Academy Award earlier this year, filed suit against the U.S. Government on Monday, demanding records from the federal government over what she says has been six years of harassment and searches at U.S. and foreign airports.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” said Poitras in a statement. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Poitras by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It names the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and seeks records pertaining to the alleged targeting.

According to the suit, the extra scrutiny began in 2006 after Poitras’ “My Country, My Country” documentary that was critical of the American occupation of Iraq was released and continued through 2012.

Each time Poitras returned from abroad and sometimes when she left the country, she faced extra scrutiny, the filmmaker claims. The suit says that the long delays happened on more than 40 international trips whenever she returned to the U.S., but also sometimes when she left or was in transit.  The suit also cites more than 10 instances when Poitras allegedly faced extra scrutiny during domestic travel, including searches not faced by other passengers.

Poitras claims that, in one instance, an immigration official said she was being searched because she had a criminal record, though she didn’t.

The suit alleges that Poitras has had her laptop, camera, mobile phone and reporter notebooks seized and their contents copied. It also alleges that Poitras was once threatened with handcuffing for taking notes during her detention after border agents said her pen could be used as a weapon. The suit said the searches were conducted without a warrant and often without explanation, and no charges were ever brought against Poitras.

The extra security suddenly evaporated in 2012 when journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote about it in The Atlantic and documentary film producers jointly submitted a petition to the Department of Homeland Security protesting it, a press release accompanying the lawsuit claims.

The suit says that Poitras filed numerous requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, but various government agencies including the plaintiffs have improperly withheld the records she’s seeking.

Besides winning the Oscar for “Citizenfour,” Poitras shared in the Pulitzer Prize that The Guardian won for public service last year for its coverage of the National Security Agency. (The Guardian shared the prize with The Washington Post).

Read the complaint below.