NPPA member challenges Congressional subpoena of her phone records
By Mickey H. Osterreicher
UPDATE | Dec. 22 2021 - The NPPA joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 50+ media and press freedom organizations requesting that the House Select Committee withdraw the subpoena for the telephone records of photojournalist Amy Harris.
“The National Press Photographers Association is very grateful to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the more than 50 media and press freedom organizations who joined the coalition letter seeking that the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol withdraw the subpoena and redress the chilling effect such action has on journalists,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA General Counsel.
Dec. 15, 2021 - Washington, D.C. – Today, lawyers for a freelance photojournalist and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) member, Amy Harris, filed suit against the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol along with its chair, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, in his official capacity.
In response to a subpoena served upon Verizon by the Committee on November 24, 2021, seeking subscriber information and call detail records associated with Ms. Harris’ phone number for the period November 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021, the filed complaint requests “a declaration that the cell phone data sought by the Verizon Subpoena is protected by the First Amendment, the federal common law reporter’s privilege, and the District of Columbia’s Free Flow of Information Act, D.C. Code § 16-4701 et seq., and enjoining the House Select Committee from obtaining or reviewing such cell phone data.”
Alternatively, the complaint seeks “a declaration that the House Select Committee may not obtain or review the telephone records of Harris until such time as this Court has had an opportunity to consider whether those records are protected against compelled disclosure, and an injunction prohibiting the House Select Committee from seeking such information concerning Ms. Harris until this Court so orders.” Additionally, the complaint seeks a declaration that the Verizon Subpoena violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and is overly broad, violating Harris’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Ms. Harris spent most of her career pitching, developing and photographing live music concerts and festivals along with backstage performer profiles as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press. But like so many visual journalists, she was forced to shift her focus when the Covid-19 pandemic ended those types of events in March 2020. Two months later, she began photographing the racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and continued to aim her lens on the unrest leading up to and following the 2020 presidential election. She traveled to 23 cities where protests occurred and made over 50,000 images. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, People, and New York Magazine. As part of that coverage, Ms. Harris was actively engaged in a project documenting the “Proud Boys” and their leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio. Her coverage of the group around the time of the Jan. 6 insurrection may be what led to the Committee’s interest in her phone records. But those records also contain the phone numbers of other confidential and nonconfidential sources, impermissibly intruding on her protected newsgathering activities, damaging her ability to report on current and future stories and placing her in danger from those who may wish to harm or harass her based on her reporting.
“While the NPPA greatly appreciates the crucial mission of the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, we believe it is misguided for members to subpoena the phone records of a visual journalist who risked her health and safety to report on and photograph protests on both sides of the political spectrum,” said Akili-Casundria Ramsess, NPPA executive director. “Such actions have a chilling effect upon the core First Amendment values critical to the democratic principles the Committee was established to protect and we hope they will seriously reconsider their position in this matter.”
Ms. Harris is being represented pro bono by attorneys Robert Corn-Revere, John D. Seiver, and Courtney T. DeThomas in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
Mickey Osterreicher is the NPPA General Counsel. He can be reached at [email protected].
The NPPA is an active advocate for the legal rights of visual journalists. Our work includes issues connected to First Amendment access, drone regulations, copyright, access and credentialing, cameras in court, “ag-gag” laws, unlawful assault on visual journalists and cases that affect the ability to record events and issues of public interest. Our work benefits not only individual journalists but the public at large.
You can support this advocacy by making a tax-deductible donation to NPPA Legal Advocacy and Education through the National Press Photographers Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization charged with advancing photojournalism through education and awarding scholarships and fellowships to deserving individuals.
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