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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Associated Press are asking the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. to require the Justice Department and the FBI to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and release records regarding the FBI’s practice of impersonating members of the news media.
The lawsuit argues that AP and the Reporters Committee “are statutorily entitled to disclosure of these records, which they seek so that they may inform the public about the nature and extent of the FBI’s impersonation of journalists and news organizations. Defendants have improperly withheld the records requested by Plaintiffs in violation of the law and in opposition to the public’s strong interest in obtaining information regarding a law enforcement practice that undermines both the credibility and independence of the news media.”
The lawsuit stems from an FBI operation in 2007, during which agents created and published a fake AP news story in order to trick a criminal suspect into downloading surveillance software onto his computer, software that enabled the Bureau to track the suspect’s location.
When the FBI’s impersonation of the AP came to light in October of 2014, the Reporters Committee and 25 news organizations immediately sent a letter to the attorney general and FBI director calling it “unacceptable.” AP also wrote to the attorney general protesting the FBI’s use of a fabricated AP news story “in the strongest possible terms.”
Reporters from AP and attorneys from the Reporters Committee submitted detailed FOIA requests to the FBI seeking information about this and any other program in which agents posed as journalists or in which false news articles were used to deliver tracking or other surveillance software. None of the requested records have been released.
“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists,” said Reporters Committee Litigation Director Katie Townsend. “This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated. Yet while the public clearly has a strong, compelling interest in knowing more about the FBI’s use of this tactic, the FBI seems determined to withhold that information. We have been left with no choice but to look to the court for relief.”
About the Reporters Committee
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970, at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources. Today it provides legal resources, and support to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Funded by corporate, foundation, and individual contributions, the Reporters Committee serves the nation’s leading news organizations; thousands of reporters, editors, and media lawyers; and many more who use our online and mobile resources. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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