US Government’s Harassment Made Visible

When your government behaves in such a way that innocent citizens are forced to act as a spies to keep safe, then it’s evident that something has gone terribly awry. Laura Poitras, an American citizen and journalist, now lives like a spy: under the constant pressure of potential government harassment and surveillance of herself, her sources, and anyone that is particularly close to her.

Her crime? Being an award winning filmmaker who has produced films addressing the negative impacts of American imperialism abroad.

Glenn Greenwald has a terrific piece that unpacks what it means to be a prominent journalist, activist, or simple government contrarian who is willing to take entirely legal actions against the American state. Actions like speaking up or otherwise exercising basic civil rights. I won’t lie: it’s a long piece, probably not something you can skim in 2-3 minutes. But if you only read one thing that holds your attention for 10-15 minutes today, go read Glenn’s piece. It’s eye opening.

As a teaser:

In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he “finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.” They sometimes keep her detained for three to four hours (all while telling her that she will be released more quickly if she answers all their questions and consents to full searches).

Poitras is now forced to take extreme steps — ones that hamper her ability to do her work — to ensure that she can engage in her journalism and produce her films without the U.S. Government intruding into everything she is doing. She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices. She uses alternative methods to deliver the most sensitive parts of her work — raw film and interview notes — to secure locations. She spends substantial time and resources protecting her computers with encryption and password defenses. Especially when she is in the U.S., she avoids talking on the phone about her work, particularly to sources. And she simply will not edit her films at her home out of fear — obviously well-grounded — that government agents will attempt to search and seize the raw footage.

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