Harris subpoena

Freelance journalist sues following House Committee’s subpoena of her phone records

November 24, 2021

The U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol subpoenaed phone records belonging to freelance photojournalist Amy Harris on Nov. 24, 2021. Harris filed a suit against the committee in December calling for the subpoena to be quashed.

According to Harris’ lawsuit, Verizon notified her on Dec. 2 that it had received a subpoena compelling the telecommunications company to produce: “All subscriber information and all call, text messaging, and other records of communications associated with Ms. Harris’ phone number for a period of almost three months between November 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021.”

Harris, who is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, primarily focused on travel and music photography prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cut off from those subjects, the lawsuit states she began documenting protests following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and political protests leading up to the November election.

Harris, who did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, was struck with pepper balls and tear gassed while covering protests in Louisville Kentucky on June 1.

Harris was actively working on a project documenting the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, and their leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, during the time frame covered by the subpoena, according to the suit, and was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the building.

In the lawsuit, Harris says that she lost her phone amidst the chaos that day but it was recovered by an unidentified Proud Boys member who left it at the Hyatt Hotel for her to pick up.

The House Select Committee, established on June 30 chaired by democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson, issued a subpoena to Verizon for Harris’s phone records in November, ordering the company to turn over the documents by Dec. 8. Verizon notified Harris that unless it received a court document challenging the subpoena by Dec. 15, it would be forced to comply.

In the lawsuit filed on Dec. 15, Harris’s attorneys argued: “Not only do the telephone records sought by the House Select Committee intrude on the personal and privileged communications of a private citizen, but they also seek information sufficient to reveal the identities of Harris’ confidential sources and would impermissibly intrude on her protected newsgathering activities.”

It was not immediately clear whether the House Select Committee was aware the number belonged to Harris prior to issuing the subpoena, Politico reported.

The suit highlights apparent hypocrisy in the committee’s actions, pointing to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s July policy barring using subpoenas, warrants or court orders to obtain reporters’ records. Additionally, Thompson issued a statement on Dec. 13 stating the importance of not using government surveillance powers to target journalists.

The lawsuit calls for the subpoena to be quashed and for Harris to be awarded costs and attorneys’ fees. As of publication, no hearings have been scheduled in the case.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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