Court: Federal Law Allows Lying in TSA-Related FOIA Requests
September 3, 2013 40 Comments
The questions before the court were as follows:
- Can the TSA (or local governments as directed by the TSA) lie in response to a FOIA request?
Sure, no problem! Even the NSA responds that they “can’t confirm or deny the existence” of classified things for which admitting or denying existence would (allegedly, of course) damage national security. But the TSA? U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard granted the TSA the special privilege of not needing to go that route, rubber-stamping the decision of the TSA and the airport authority to write to me that no CCTV footage of the incident existed when, in fact, it did. This footage is non-classified and its existence is admitted by over a dozen visible camera domes and even signage that the area is being recorded. Beyond that, the TSA regularly releases checkpoint video when it doesn’t show them doing something wrong (for example, here’s CCTV of me beating their body scanners). But if it shows evidence of misconduct? Just go ahead and lie.
- Can the TSA hide the names and faces of its public-facing employees (and any local law enforcement coming to their aid) who are accused of misconduct?
You bet! Despite the fact that they all wore name tags and I could have legally taken photos of them, Judge Lenard feels that the public servants who illegally searched and detained me deserve “privacy,” and upheld the TSA’s decision to redact their names from every document sent to me and to blur the entirety of every video sent to me. This is the same TSA that cares so much about privacy that they “accidentally” published a copy of my driver’s license in court filings.
- Can the TSA frustrate court review of whether or not a document is releasable under FOIA simply by “ordering” it secret?
Why not?! Judge Lenard ruled that once a document is labeled “Sensitive Security Information” (which the TSA does by merely waiving a magic wand and writing “SSI” on the cover of a document) the U.S. District Court loses its power to review that determination, and the U.S. Court of Appeals is the proper forum. But wait, the Court of Appeals doesn’t evaluate FOIA claims, so now, in order to get a document you want, you must petition 2 courts and pay over $800 in filing fees alone. Yes, clearly this is how Congress intended public records laws — designed to allow transparency in government — to work.
On top of this recent heap of fail, Judge Lenard had previously tossed the bulk of my lawsuit — 19 out of 21 charges — and then refused to allow me to appeal those 19 charges until she contemplated these two remaining charges. She then took 6 months to write this 19-page opinion. Her decision today, therefore, is not much of a surprise to me, since Judge Lenard seems to be more inclined to rubber-stamp government thuggery, through convoluted, ill-supported, and needlessly delayed rulings, rather than to dispense justice. I will be filing a notice of appeal this week, sending this case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, and I am strongly tempted to file a complaint of judicial misconduct based on her purposeful delay of my case and the sheer absurdity of some of her arguments. But, appeal first, misconduct complaint later.
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