Attorneys from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s Washington, D.C., office are representing a U.S. citizen in their suit against several federal agencies for privacy violations.
The lawyers represent Chinese-American Yanping Chen, the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia. The complaint names the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security as defendants, as well as possible culprits accused of leaking private information about Chen to Fox News.
According to the lawsuit, the distribution of Chen’s personal details to the media network constituted a violation of protections afforded to her by the Privacy Act.
As detailed in the filing, information about Chen’s private life was compiled by federal officials as part of a 2010 investigation into several Chinese-born scientists residing in the United States.
“The investigation appeared to focus on statements Dr.Chen made on immigration forms concerning her work in the 1980s as a scientist for the Chinese astronaut program,” the suit said. Chen—who came to the U.S. in 1987 to study at George Washington University, where she earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in public policy—is the founder of the University of Management and Technology in Arlington, Virginia.
Chen became a permanent resident of the U.S. in 1993 and a citizen in 2001. However, she still found her life “probed deeply” by the FBI over a six-year period as part of their investigation, according to her lawsuit.
Read the complaint:
“Agents of the U.S. Government conducted interviews of her family and colleagues, obtained her immigration records, monitored her travel, seized her computer from her as she was transiting through an airport, employed an undercover informant to covertly gather information about her, and secretly monitored and recorded her conversations,” the complaint said.
Agents seized materials from Chen’s home in 2012, but ultimately closed the investigation in March 2016 with no charges against her.
However, the end of the government inquiry only marked the beginning of Chen’s troubles, according to the suit. Based “on information and belief,” the lawsuit held, “starting at some time before late February 2017, one or more agents of the FBI (or, possibly, other defendants) unlawfully disclosed to one or more persons associated with Fox News various records and information pertaining to Dr. Chen and her private affairs that the FBI had collected or generated in the course of its investigation.”
The news channel then broadcast reports Feb. 24, April 28 and June 28, 2017 that accused Chen of lying on immigration paperwork about previously working for the Chinese military.
“Among other things, the Feb. 24, 2017 Fox News report revealed information derived from, and images of, an FBI FD-302 Form, bearing file number 200D-WF240088, that purported to memorialize an FBI interview of Dr. Chen’s daughter,” according to the complaint. Fox News’ initial story on Chen also included ”data taken from, and images of, Dr. Chen’s immigration and naturalization forms; Dr. Chen’s certificate of U.S. citizenship, which includes her birth date, INS registration number, height, and marital status; and Dr. Chen’s immigration application”—all private information that had been seized by FBI officials.
The lawsuit shared that Chen’s life has been upended by the broadcasts. “The University of Management and Technology’s enrollments and revenues sharply decreased in the wake of the leak-based Fox News reports. This decrease has had a severe and negative effect on Dr. Chen’s income and the value of her personal investment,” according to the complaint. Chen has also received hate mail and death threats since her information was disseminated publicly, according to the suit.
“The disclosure or disclosures of the Leaked Records by one or more employees or agents of the Defendants was a willful and intentional violation of the Privacy Act,” the complaint said. “The Leaked Records broadcast in the Fox News reports included ‘records’ within the meaning of the Privacy Act. These records could not have been obtained by Fox News except from the Defendants, either directly or indirectly.”
The Wilmer lawyers representing Chen—Matt Jones, Patrick Carome and Justin Baxenberg—declined comment. Public information officers with the FBI as well as Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security cited internal policy regarding comments on ongoing litigation and declined to discuss the lawsuit.
Requests for comment from Fox News media representatives Irena Briganti and Alexandra Coscia were not returned by press time.