Director Laura Poitras, whose documentary about Edward Snowden won an Oscar, says she has been held for hours at a time by airport officials, told she was on a no-fly list and threatened with handcuffs for taking notes.
Poitras filed a lawsuit on Monday against the US government to find out why she has been searched, questioned and subjected to enhanced security screenings over the course of six years at US and international airports.
Poitras’ documentary films include the 2006 Oscar-nominated “My Country, My Country” a story about the Iraq war told through an Iraqi doctor and political candidate in Baghdad who was an outspoken critic of US occupation.
Poitras also directed and produced the Emmy-nominated “The Oath,” a 2010 documentary film a which tells the story of two men whose encounter in 1996 set them on events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the US Supreme Court.
Poitras’ latest film, “CITIZENFOUR,” is about Snowden and NSA mass surveillance.
Jamie Lee Williams, an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney said “We are suing the government to force it to disclose any records that would show why security officials targeted Poitras for six years, even though she had no criminal record and there was no indication that she posed any security risk.”
Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker Poitras says she was detained at the US border every time she entered the country during frequent travels from 2006 to 2012 for work on her documentary films.
She said, “I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the US border to bypass the rule of law, 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.”
During these detentions, she was told by airport security agents that she had a criminal record even though she does not. She was also told that her name appeared on a national security threat database, and on one occasion, she was on the US government’s No Fly List.
Poitras has had her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and reporter notebooks seized and their contents copied. Once, she was also threatened with handcuffs for taking notes during her detention after border agents said her pen could be used as a weapon.
David Sobel, EFF senior counsel said “The government used its power to detain people at airports, in the name of national security, to target a journalist whose work has focused on the effects of the US war on terror.”
According to EFF reports the detentions ended in 2012 after journalist Glenn Greenwald published an article about Poitras’ experiences and a group of documentary filmmakers submitted a petition to DHS protesting her treatment.