Photog Wins Access to FBI's Cache of Records
WASHINGTON (CN) - The FBI may be unfairly withholding its records on a photojournalist who worked an International Monetary Fund protest, a federal judge ruled.
Laura Sennett, who sometimes goes by the alias "Isis," has been published by CNN and the History Channel, among other outlets, and covered the International Monetary Fund spring meeting protests on April 12, 2008.
In an affidavit, Arlington County detectives characterized her presence as an "unidentified white female videotaping/photographing the [IMF] event."
Five months after the protests, 10 armed FBI agents raided Sennett's home in Arlington, Va., and seized 26 items. Sennett's son was in the house.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted Wednesday, however, that the warrant to search Sennett's home stemmed from the protest's development "into an excuse for petty vandalism."
"The search produced 'more than 7,000 pictures, two computers, several cameras and other camera equipment,'" he added.
Sennett submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the FBI, seeking all records regarding her out of interest in what else the bureau had on her.
She got more than 1,000 pages of responsive records, but the bureau withheld 600 pages under FOIA exemptions.
After the department refused to release all records that it had on her, Sennett filed suit in 2012.
The FBI invoked a FOIA exemption concerning confidential sources in withholding the records, but Judge Boasberg previously concluded that the bureau's initial affidavit failed to justify the withholding.
Boasberg approved all of the withholdings except for those falling under the confidential sources exemption, prompting the FBI to file what Boasberg called a "beefed-up declaration."
"Defendant has now returned, new-and-improved declaration in hand, again asking for summary judgment," Boasberg wrote. "Although that updated statement is somewhat helpful, it is far from enough."
He said the bureau must release all records it withheld under the confidential-sources exemption.
Sennett had also sued the Department of Justice in 2009 over the raid of her home.
That federal civil rights complaint noted that officials seized computer hardware and data, digital cameras and memory cards, a still camera, digital storage devices, and a digital voice recorder, though she was not a target of a criminal investigation.
She also said the cops took other work materials and personal belongings.