United States District Court, S.D. New York
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Mac William Bishop, Christopher Chivers, Plaintiffs: David Edward McCraw, Diana Victoria Baranetsky, New York Times Company, New York, NY.
For United States Department of Homeland Security, Defendant: Jean-David Barnea, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, SDNY (Chambers Street), New York, NY.
OPINION AND ORDER
GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiffs Mac William Bishop and Christopher Chivers have brought this suit under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (" FOIA" ), against the United States Department of Homeland Security (" DHS" ) to obtain records relating to the questioning of plaintiffs at John F. Kennedy International Airport in May and June 2013. The parties have each moved for summary judgment. They have also consented to disposition of the case by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, DHS's motion is granted and plaintiffs' motion is denied.
Mac William Bishop and Christopher Chivers are reporters for The New York Times who on May 24, 2013, went to John F. Kennedy International Airport (" JFK" ) to board a flight to Turkey to report on the civil war in Syria. See McCraw Decl. ¶ ¶ 1, 3. While waiting at the boarding gate, Bishop and Chivers were pulled aside, taken to a separate room, and questioned individually by DHS employees.
See id. ¶ 4. Upon returning to the United States from Turkey on June 6, 2013, Chivers was again subjected to such " segregated" questioning by DHS employees at JFK.
In June and July 2013, Chivers and Bishop sent separate FOIA requests to DHS headquarters " seeking all information and records in the possession of DHS concerning" them. Id. ¶ ¶ 5, 11; see Privacy Act Request/Christopher Chivers, dated June 27, 2013 (annexed as Ex. B to McCraw Decl.); Privacy Act Request/Mac William Bishop, dated July 10, 2013 (annexed as Ex. G to McCraw Decl.). After DHS asserted that it could not locate any
responsive documents, plaintiffs made significant efforts, by means of letters and appeals within the agency, to persuade DHS to continue its search. See McCraw Decl. 6-10, 13-18; see also Privacy Act Request/Christopher Chivers, dated Aug. 9, 2013 (annexed as Ex. D to McCraw Decl.); Bishop FOIA Appeal, dated Oct. 28, 2013 (annexed as Ex. I to McCraw Decl.); Privacy Act Request/Mac William Bishop, dated Aug. 9, 2013 (annexed as Ex. L to McCraw Decl.). As a result of plaintiffs' persistence, which continued even after they filed their complaint in this case, DHS identified numerous responsive documents. See McCraw Decl. ¶ 20; Castelli Decl. ¶ ¶ 11, 14. Many of the documents were produced with redactions, however, and some were withheld in their entirety. See McCraw Decl. 20-21. The identified documents all emanate from the same division of DHS: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (" CBP" ). See generally Castelli Decl. ¶ ¶ 16-21. Plaintiffs have chosen not to challenge some of the withholdings by DHS, and thus, the disputes remaining in this case are narrow.
A. The Relevant Documents
The documents at issue come from either CBP's " TECS" computer system or CBP's Automated Targeting System (" ATS" ) database. With regard to the TECS documents, CBP " Privacy Officer" Laurence E. Castelli, see Castelli Decl. ¶ 1, explains that
TECS (not an acronym) is an overarching law enforcement information collection, analysis and sharing environment, comprised of several modules designed to collect, maintain and screen data as well as conduct analysis, screening and information sharing to facilities the law enforcement and antiterrorism mission of CBP . . . . [It] is used by CBP primarily to track individuals who have violated or are suspected of violating a law or regulation enforced or administered by CBP, provides a record of any inspection conducted at the border and assists officers in determining admissibility of persons arriving in the United States.
Id. ¶ 8. " TECS query capabilities can be used to analyze data from various sources to assist authorized users in the identification of areas of law enforcement interest, concern, or relationships indicating the possible presence of such interests/concerns." Supp. Castelli Decl. ¶ 2 (citation omitted).
With regard to the ATS documents, Castelli explains that ATS stores passenger name records, see Castelli Decl. ¶ 12, and contains a " module" maintaining data on " persons traveling to and from the United States on commercial air carriers,"
id. ¶ 13. This module " provides an hierarchical system that allows DHS personnel to focus efforts on potentially high-risk passengers by eliminating labor-intensive manual reviews of traveler information or interviews with every traveler." Supp. Castelli Decl. ¶ 7. The module reflects an " assessment process" that is " based on a set of uniform and user-defined rules based on specific optional, tactical, intelligence, or local enforcement efforts." Id. The module " augments the CBP officer's decision-making process about whether a traveler or crew member should receive additional screening" and " provides an automated solution that allows CBP personnel to focus efforts on potentially high-risk travelers by eliminating labor-intensive manual comparison of traveler information or interviews with every traveler." Id. ¶ 8.
ATS is a decision support tool that compares traveler, cargo, and conveyance information against law enforcement, intelligence, and other enforcement data using risk-based targeting scenarios and
assessments. ATS was designed to efficiently perform risk assessments on information pertaining to international travelers and shipments arriving in or departing the United States. ATS uses a rule-managed technology that facilitates the targeting of high-risk travelers and cargo . . . .
ATS compares existing information on individuals and cargo entering and existing the country with patterns identified as requiring additional security. The patterns are based on CBP officer experience, analysis of trends of suspicious activity, and raw intelligence corroborating those trends . . . .
Specifically, [the module] combines the information provided by airlines with law enforcement and intelligence information, and displays this combined data in a law-enforcement-sensitive format, showing the importance that CBP places on different elements and factors in making law enforcement decisions, as ...