City of Seattle V. Feds: Justice Dept Sues to Keep FBI Surveillance Cameras Secret

In an effort to hide details of ongoing FBI surveillance efforts in the city of Seattle, federal prosecutors are suing the city. According to, the Justice Department has requested a court order, which would prevent the city from releasing information into the whereabouts of FBI-operated surveillance cameras installed on power poles as part of their Seattle City Light program.

“Disclosure of the location of an FBI surveillance camera nearly always can reasonably be expected to reveal the location of the subject of the investigation,” assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Winn said in his request.

However, the FBI believes that revealing the documents at issue — which were requested through Washington’s Public Records Act — are exempt from disclosure as they were provided “in furtherance of the FBI’s criminal and national security missions pursuant to an express agreement that the information would be held in confidence and not used or disclosed for any other purpose without the permission of the FBI.”

Surveillance cameras are useful in many areas, such as private businesses where it’s estimated they can help eliminate theft and losses up to 80% and improve productivity. Of course, the federal government and FBI use them for monitoring/catching criminal activity and potential terrorist threats.

The FBI is constantly involved in a myriad of surveillance programs, but usually they are general and widespread. Typically, they only use specifically setup surveillance cameras – like the ones in Seattle – to watch a specific person/group of people.

Yet their argument is that by revealing the requested information into where the cameras are located, it would tip-off the very people they’re trying to catch. Reportedly, the FBI currently operates nine of their own cameras in Seattle.

In the case that could ultimately have Constitutional privacy implications, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones issued a temporary restraining order, which prevents Seattle from disclosing any information until an official hearing has been held. The date for that hearing has not been scheduled at the time of this writing.

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