The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NBC 7 San Diego, and its reporter Tom Jones have filed a federal lawsuit against four government agencies for refusing to turn over records about a secret government database, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
In the complaint, filed on April 22, Reporters Committees attorneys state the United States Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services have “improperly withheld” information responsive to FOIA requests submitted by NBC 7 and the Reporters Committee in March.
After NBC 7 reported that the U.S. government created a secret database of journalists, activists, and social media influencers in connection with asylum and immigration issues at the U.S./Mexico border, NBC 7 investigative reporter Tom Jones submitted a FOIA request to CBP seeking a variety of records. He requested information related to Operation Secure Line — the initiative created to monitor migrant caravans — along with emails and memos related to the government database.
The Reporters Committee also submitted FOIA requests, following publication of NBC 7’s story, seeking access to records related to the government’s secret database, guidelines, and communications. Neither the Reporters Committee nor Jones have received any communications from the agencies after the initial confirmation of their requests.
“NBC 7’s reporting that the government has tracked journalists and, in some cases, placed holds on their passports, apparently based on the subject matter of their reporting is deeply troubling,” said Reporters Committee Legal Director Katie Townsend. “By not responding to the FOIA requests made by NBC 7 or the Reporters Committee, these agencies are preventing the public from knowing why the United States government is monitoring and, in some cases, stopping and questioning journalists about their work at the border.”
In the complaint, Reporters Committee attorneys ask the federal district court in Washington, D.C. to order the agencies to immediately process the requested records, and to prohibit them from withholding all records not exempt under FOIA.
In addition to the records, the Reporters Committee and NBC 7 are also seeking an award of attorneys’ fees. The full complaint is available here.