Raimondo v. FBI (Internet Free Speech)
In 2004, the FBI conducted a “threat assessment” of long-time journalists and commentators Justin Raimondo and Eric Garris, as well as their website, Antiwar.com. In violation of the federal Privacy Act, this threat assessment compiled descriptions of the journalists’ First Amendment activities without any apparent law enforcement purpose. Attorneys at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP represented the journalists in a federal lawsuit against the FBI. Records the journalists received in response to their Freedom of Information Act claims revealed that the threat assessment was based on shoddy investigative work in addition to the apparent targeting of the journalists’ political speech. In the litigation, the FBI asserted that it was entitled to create this threat assessment because of Antiwar.com’s posting of government documents. But the First Amendment has long protected the publication of government secrets and the FBI never even suggested that the journalists or Antiwar.com had violated the law by obtaining or posting those documents.
The district court held for the government and the ACLU appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Several organizations filed amicus brief in support of the journalists’ position.
On September 11, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court and held that the FBI violated Section (e)(7) of the Privacy Act by maintaining records of First Amendment activity of Mr. Garris.
ACLU Releases Records in Freedom of the Press Lawsuit: Sloppy FBI Work Leads to Spying on Journalists (Nov. 6, 2013)
ACLU Lawsuit Takes on FBI Surveillance of News Organizations (May 21, 2013)