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Editor awarded almost $67,000 in attorney fees

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NINTH CIRCUIT   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Jan. 24, 2007

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NINTH CIRCUIT   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Jan. 24, 2007

Editor awarded almost $67,000 in attorney fees

  • Wired News editor Kevin Poulsen, who sued to obtain information about a crippling computer virus, should receive fees from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, a judge has ruled.

Jan. 24, 2007  ·   A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that a Wired News editor is entitled to almost $67,000 in attorney fees after successfully suing to obtain documents about problems with a $1.7 billion government computer system.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wrote in her Tuesday order that senior editor Kevin Poulsen “substantially prevailed” – the standard a requester must meet to receive reimbursement for the cost of legal fees – in litigation regarding his Freedom of Information Act request.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection claimed that Poulsen should not receive legal fees because he did not prove there to be any benefit to the public from the documents the agency was forced to disclose. However, the judge noted that Poulsen has written two stories about a version of the worm virus and its damaging effects on computer systems using records obtained through his FOIA lawsuit.

Poulsen originally sued the agency in April under FOIA, after its refusal to fulfill his request for documents that would explain the cause of a computer malfunction that occurred in the US-VISIT system. The $1.7 billion dollar program, which has recently been shut down, was in use for two years tracking foreign nationals’ visits into the United States while comparing them to the list of suspected terrorists.

Customs and Border Protection declined the request, claiming that if disclosed, the information in the documents could pose a threat to national security.

After Poulsen filed suit, the agency released three heavily edited documents totaling five pages designating the Zotob computer virus as the reason for the system malfunction.

Zotob, a computer virus originating from Morocco, first entered the network of Customs and Border Protection before infiltrating the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT system, according to Poulsen’s article, ” The Virus that Ate DHS,” which appeared in Wired News.

In court, Customs and Border Protection defended its editing of the released documents by concluding that disclosure of information could lead to problems with the overall security of the system. On these same grounds, the agency chose to withhold 12 other documents.

After reviewing the documents, Illston ordered in September that four more of the documents be released and that some of the blacked out information from the original documents be revealed.

(Poulsen v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Media Counsel: Lauren Gelman, Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, Stanford, Calif.)AG

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