SEATTLE (CN) — A federal judge granted the FBI a temporary restraining order preventing Seattle and Seattle City Light from disclosing the locations of hidden surveillance cameras on power poles.
Seattle City Light was set to release the information in response to a public records request. But on Monday U.S. District Judge Richard Jones agreed with the federal government’s claim that “the FBI will be irreparably injured” if the utility company is allowed to disclose the locations, pending a hearing.
Jones issued a temporary restraining order the day the United States requested it.
“Revelation of the subject of an FBI investigation by the unauthorized disclosure of the location of a current or previously installed pole camera can have a devastating impact on an investigation,” the U.S. attorney wrote in the complaint. “Armed with such knowledge, a subject would not only be able to evade further investigation by the FBI, but would also be able to employ countermeasures to impede further investigation such as destroying, hiding, or otherwise concealing evidence; intimidating or retaliating against cooperating witnesses; or by simply fleeing the jurisdiction. Such disclosure would also allow any individual other than the subject of an investigation who is intent on interfering with or thwarting the investigation to do so. As such, unauthorized disclosure of the location of a pole camera could threaten the safety of the FBI agents involved with the investigation.”
The FBI is authorized to use surveillance equipment by the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations, and every pole camera is associated with a particular subject or investigation, the FBI says.
Starting in 2013, the FBI shared information with City Light about the spy cameras so utility employees would not remove them, according to the complaint.
In 2015, a Seattle television reporter requested records on the cameras in a public records request. The city released some information, but not the locations of the cameras.
“The FBI has already been injured by the City’s unauthorized disclosures,” U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes wrote in her request for an injunction. “Because of the violation of the FBI’s rights under its confidentiality agreement with City Light, the FBI has ceased any further sharing of information with City Light. This has been necessary to prevent further jeopardy to the FBI’s criminal and national security investigations, potential harm or theft of its equipment, and risks to the safety of FBI personnel and the public. Discontinuation of the information sharing program was also necessary because public disclosure of the locations of FBI cameras placed at risk the privacy of uncharged and/or entirely innocent third parties. In the meantime, the absence of communications with City Light has placed FBI equipment at risk of inadvertently being removed or destroyed by City Light personnel. Such lack of coordination and communication between state and federal government entities is contrary to effective law enforcement and otherwise contrary to public interest in good government.”
Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office, said the city would follow the judge’s order.
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