Freelance photojournalist sues Jan. 6 committee for 'invasive and sweeping' subpoena

The committee's subpoena would force the journalist to reveal her confidential sources, Amy Harris argues.

Updated: December 15, 2021 - 8:37pm

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Freelance photojournalist Amy Harris is suing the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack after the panel issued what she calls "an invasive and sweeping subpoena" of her phone records.

Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and Time magazine, and she is a member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Harris captured photos of the 2020 political unrest, documenting the far-right Proud Boys and the Black Lives Matter protests.

On Jan. 6, Harris interacted with the Proud Boys but she did not enter the Capitol, she maintains. Instead, she chose to stay outside with other photographers and those images were later published by the Washington Post and others. 

The committee specifically subpoenaed Harris' cell phone carrier Verizon to see all subscriber information, calls, text messages and other records associated with her phone from Nov. 1, 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021. Verizon planned on complying with the subpoena unless Harris challenged it in court by Wednesday. 

The 23-page complaint argues that the subpoena violates "her First Amendment rights as a journalist, her protection under the D.C. Shield law, and her Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure."

The committee's subpoena "would also impermissibly intrude on her protected newsgathering activities, deprive her of future opportunities to obtain confidential information from confidential sources, and expose her to possible threats of bodily harm from those whose numbers would be so exposed by disclosure of her call detail records," according to the lawsuit.

NPPA Executive Director Akili-Casundria Ramsess said, "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.

"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," Ramsess said.

Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to President Donald Trump, is also suing the Jan. 6 committee in an attempt to block the panel's subpoena of him and Verizon, his personal cell phone carrier. Congress voted on Tuesday to hold Meadows in criminal contempt.

While Harris argued that the Jan. 6 committee's subpoena would reveal "privileged communications between a journalist and her confidential sources," Meadows argued that the subpoenas would violate executive privilege.