Court: Federal Law Allows Lying in TSA-Related FOIA Requests

disscoverMoments ago, the remaining claims in my lawsuit stemming from being illegally detained at FLL airport and then lied to about the existence of CCTV video of the incident, were dismissed.

The questions before the court were as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Corbett v. TSA – Full Dismissal (.pdf)

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41 thoughts on “Court: Federal Law Allows Lying in TSA-Related FOIA Requests

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    1. She doesn’t need to justify anything. The TSA and the court are the rulers of this country and we are just commoners. Nobles don’t need to justify their actions to commoners.

      1. Off message, comrade. Thoughtcrime.

        Amsoc says and always has said different:

        We’re at war with EURASIA. Always have been at war with Eurasia.

    2. The decision frames the “falsely denying the existence of footage” as a violation of Florida’s Public Records Act (FRPA), not a FOIA violation.

      True, the judge confirms that Broward acted based on the TSA’s advice when it denied the existence of the footage in response to the FRPA. But, according to the decision, that issue “is now moot, as the TSA has produced the requested footage subject to appropriate [SSI and other] redactions.”

      Sorry, it just doesn’t sounds like this district court judge is saying that FEDERAL law (i.e., FOIA) allows agencies to lie. Withholding is a whole different story.

  1. That link you posted doesn’t show you “beating” the scanner or even going through it. Now your credibility is zero. Good job.

    1. Click the links within the YouTube video, or search through my blog. My beating the scanner made international news 18 months ago, has been submitted under penalty of perjury in court proceedings, and was presented in person to the U.S. Congress. Good job indeed.

  2. Now that you mentioned donations, I think I should bring my thoughts up.
    I have been reading your blog regularly for probably close to a year now. You are doing good work.
    That being said, is it true that you are handling all your court cases without a lawyer, and you yourself have no legal training?

    I suppose going through this alone is quite a learning experience for you and you probably consider it a good project. But isn’t it just wasting everyone else’s time and money, and delaying the case results if you are doing it without professional help?

    I would think that considering the gravity of what you are trying to do, you would have no problem finding a law firm that will work with you pro-bono (sp?). I would happily donate more money to your cause if it did not have a bit of an air of “just some guys hobby” to it.

    That being said, I am heading over to PayPal right now anyways.

    1. First, thank you for your support… I really appreciate and without all the support I’ve received, I would have given up.

      Regarding lawyers, there are lawyers who have filed similar suits and failed. I’m in communication with them all, and they’re all very smart guys. But, there’s no special power to draft an argument conferred upon you when your license to practice law takes effect. What’s needed to win in court is the passion to follow through on every angle, and I think I can do that better than an attorney would. I hope it shines through that the civil rights advocacy work that I do is my passion, not my hobby.

    2. You don’t need a lawyer, if you know the facts and the law. I am living proof that fighting the Government or the courts is never easy, but if you are persistent in your cause they can be held accountable. Nevertheless, I never came for the trial due to the one-sided conditions as reflected in the letter i received from the same people I was suing. (The Government).

      Never! Never! give up.

  3. Sounds like she’s a thug, just another piece of shit getting rich on the taxpayer dime while enabling the criminal class to avoid responsibility for their crimes.

  4. Passion is good, but an understanding of the law and the standard of review at the appellate level would be better. You have no chance. You should also consider “dialing down” the rhetoric, it makes you look like just another whack job who complains about everything the government does.

    1. Have you even read my briefs? Please do so and then re-consider whether I lack an understanding of the relevant law.

      In the day and age where the government has been caught red handed spying on all of our phone calls using laws that allow them to go after terrorists, I don’t think anyone critical of the government can be called a whack job, conspiracy theorist, etc., anymore. In fact, I’d say that anyone who is *not* looking at the government with a critical eye right now is naïve.

  5. I get what wbeedee is saying, Jonathan. It’s not that you’re a whack job in actuality, it’s that the blog’s hyperbolic tone (e.g. “Sure, no problem!”, “You bet!”, etc.) may mistakenly give some that impression.

    I actually think that toning it down a little would make your arguments even stronger. I haven’t read your actual court briefs, but I suspect those are more reserved (maybe I’m wrong, though).

    I also think of Glenn Greenwald and how he can make a powerful argument by just steadily hammering away at the facts and the law in passionate yet restrained prose. He can be snarky, of course, but it’s generally not over the top.

    Just some thoughts.

    Otherwise, I think your ideas are compelling. What has the ACLU had to say about your case, if anything?


  6. As frustrating as it is, I don’t think the court is authorizing lying. Instead they are saying that because you only sought injunctive relief (meaning an order to produce the videos) and they have now been produced, even if Broward had violated the Florida law, the court could not grant you further relief.
    The problem really is two fold. First federal law, through exemption 3, allows agencies to adopt exemptions through administrative processes. Second, a federal court is not going to give any deference to an inconsistent state law. Most state laws are significantly more powerful than FOIA, but they also often include “incorporation” provisions that allow federal statutes to be treated as state exemptions. we have had similar rulings in Washington state where state courts have enforced federal regulations under state law, even when those records would otherwise very clearly be subject to disclosure. the irony is that Washington state agencies cannot adopt exemptions to state law, but federal agencies can create exemptions to state law.
    That being said I think you would have had a much better result in a state action under state law. I would have to agree, however, that I think any appeal would be fruitless in the federal system.

  7. My reading is very similar to Ramsey. The court here appears to be sidestepping the general public policy issue that seems to have drawn your ire (a false claim by a government agency about the existence of a public record) because you have already been ‘relieved’ (injunctively speaking, of course). (Had the video not ultimately been released, I would be interested to read the decision, and agree that the state court action would bear more fruit.)
    Further, there is nothing in here about Broward being able to lie under FOIA because your injunctive relief was sought under FRPA, so I agree with some other comments that the headline is misleading. While I’m sympathetic to your situation, hyperbole is not your friend.

      1. While I agree the issue is not moot I think that’s what’s going on. The judge doesn’t want to rule against the government and the fact that the tape was released gave her a loophole to try to wiggle through.

  8. DHS’s report finds no racial profiling by the TSA at Logan (DHS investigated the TSA? They’re the same agency, a total B/S finding)

    The ACLU criticized the Department of Homeland Security findings, pointing out that the TSA does not collect data on the race or ethnic origin of travelers, which makes it difficult to put together an accurate picture of those pulled aside for extra questioning.

    A May report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General office found that TSA does not adequately assess the effectiveness of behavior detection, and therefore the agency “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively.”

    In addition, one of the investigators originally assigned to the case — and then removed — was a former TSA supervisor at Logan who had hired some of the managers who were subjects of the internal complaints, said Sarah Wunsch, an ACLU staff lawyer in Boston.

    “This result is absurd,” Wunsch said. “From the start of this investigation there was every indication that they were not going to do an adequate job.”

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