On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the Reporters Committee and the Associated Press, overturning a district court ruling in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice.
In its decision, the court found that the FBI failed to demonstrate that it conducted an adequate search for records relating to the impersonation of journalists. The case will be sent back to the district court for review.
“This decision is a significant victory in our effort to help reporters and the public better understand law enforcement practices for impersonating the news media,” said Katie Townsend, litigation director for the Reporters Committee. “These practices undermine the media’s credibility and could make sources wary of trusting journalists in the future. The public has a right to this information.”
“The Court agreed with our position that the FBI should have — but did not — search the FBI Director's Office for records in response to the FOIA requests submitted by the Reporters Committee and the AP,” Townsend said. “The FBI will now have to conduct that search, and it will have to explain and justify the limited search it did conduct when this case returns to the district court.”
In 2015, after it was revealed that the FBI had impersonated an AP reporter during a 2007 investigation, the Reporters Committee and the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice to force them to comply with FOIA requests and release records regarding the practice.
In 2017, the Reporters Committee also filed a lawsuit against the FBI and DOJ after it was discovered they were also impersonating documentary filmmakers in a separate investigation. That case is pending in federal district court in Washington, D.C.