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SAN FRANCISCO – Today the American Civil Liberties Union sued the FBI in a freedom of the press lawsuit on behalf of two editors at a libertarian online magazine. After learning that their Bay Area-based site, Antiwar.com, was the subject of FBI surveillance, Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo sought the documents the government had compiled on both them and the site. After a year, the FBI has failed to produce any documents, so Garris and Raimondo do not know the full extent of the surveillance and whether it is ongoing. The editors are asking the FBI to turn over relevant documents, and to stop collecting records of their constitutionally protected speech.
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy, whether it’s the Associated Press or Antiwar.com,” said Julia Mass, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Government surveillance of news organizations interferes with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
Garris and Raimondo discovered FBI documents that showed a record of surveillance of the online magazine. In these documents an FBI analyst recognized that Antiwar.com’s content is constitutionally protected speech, but still recommended opening an investigation and continued FBI monitoring of the site.
“There is no reason for the FBI to be conducting surveillance on our news site. The FBI should be investigating actual criminal activity, not snooping on journalists,” said Garris, who has worked for the online magazine since 1995.
“Federal law has important protections against creating files about how people exercise their free speech rights, even when that speech criticizes the government,” said Marley Degner, an attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. “A news organization under government surveillance is not truly free to express itself.”
The editors originally requested FBI records on May 24, 2012, and have legal rights under the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act to obtain the records the agency has compiled on them. There is no legal basis for the FBI’s failure to respond to the journalists’ requests.
Garris and Raimondo are represented by the ACLU of Northern California, with pro bono co-counsel from the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.