Journalists Win Victory in Freedom of the Press Case Filed by ACLU

March 31, 2021 1:45 pm

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NEW YORK — In a win for freedom of the press, a U.S. District Court judge yesterday denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss a case against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding violations of journalists’ First Amendment rights.

In 2019, five photojournalists who were tracked, detained, and interrogated by DHS in an unprecedented, coordinated attack on the freedom of the press sued to defend the First Amendment. The journalists were all reporting on conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border. On multiple separate occasions in 2018 and 2019, U.S. border officers targeted the journalists for interrogation at the border, compelled them to disclose information about their sources and observations as journalists, and even searched through their photos and notes. The five plaintiffs — Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana, and Ariana Drehsler — are all U.S. citizens and professional photojournalists. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

“I am pleased to learn of the court’s decision, which demonstrates the gravity of the government’s actions to target journalists’ work at the U.S.-Mexico border,” said plaintiff Kitra Cahana. “Journalists must feel free to cover issues of migration without fear of being targeted and interrogated by the government or placed on special lists that limit our ability to travel and do our jobs. Forcing journalists to reveal information about our work jeopardizes the integrity of our profession and the foundation of a free press.”

The lawsuit argues that the government’s actions violated the First Amendment, burdening journalists from conducting constitutionally-protected newsgathering and reporting by subjecting them to detention and questioning about their journalism work. The plaintiffs also ask the court to order the government to delete all records it obtained through the unlawful interrogations.

“Border screening cannot be used as a pretext to target journalists who were simply doing their jobs,” said Esha Bhandari, deputy director with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “We are pleased that the court recognized that First Amendment protections apply at the border. We look forward to holding the government accountable and ensuring freedom of the press is not imperiled by border officers’ actions.”

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