'Citizenfour' Director Laura Poitras Sues Over "Kafkaesque" Airport Screening

She's demanding answers to why she was detained on more than 50 occasions in an FOIA suit against the U.S. government.
AP Images/Invision

Laura Poitras, the award-winning documentary filmmaker behind Citizenfour, is suing the U.S. government to get records related to the instances she was searched and questioned at airports throughout the world.

The complaint, brought in the District of Columbia under the Freedom of Information Act, says she was subjected to secondary security screening and detention on more than 50 occasions.

Throughout her career, Poitras has worked on politically sensitive topics including the American military occupation in Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay prison and the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Her work on Citizenfour earned an Academy Award for best documentary feature this past year.

Poitras says in her complaint that her troubles with airport screening date back to 2006, while she was traveling to the Jerusalem Film Festival to screen My Country, My Country, and continued to 2012, when journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote an article about her experiences being detained at the border. Through that time, she reports being held up to hours at a time, being told she was on the No Fly List, having her electronic equipment held for 41 days and, around the time she was working on a film about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, being threatened with handcuffs for taking notes.

She says she first submitted an FOIA request in January 2014, and that various agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration have acknowledged her requests, but have not been responsive with documents.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” said Poitras. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy. I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

She's represented by David Sobel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The lawsuit faces some tough odds thanks to FOIA exemptions on classified national security secrets, documents that would interfere with enforcement proceedings or ones that would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations. But it might at least force the government to give her a response as to why it's withholding documents.