FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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October 16, 2014 11:40 PM

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) director James Brien Comey, Jr. is one of the nation's top cops. But he's drawn the ire of civil liberty groups and citizen activists alike both over allegations of his agency's role in helping the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spy on Americans and over his recent comments to the press that suggest it's "dangerous" for mobile firms to offer full-device encryption.

Even outside the civil liberties space, this attitude is drawing quiet but pointed criticism from the world of enterprise IT, where encryption is often essential for protecting corporate secrets against both private and public espionage.

In a new interview with CBS Corp.'s (CBS) 60 Minutes program, Director Comey does not shy from his past remarks. In the bizarre interview, he seems to contradict himself just seconds later at times. Continue>>>
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data, FBI, NSA, open data
October 14, 2014 2:49 PM

The congressional candidate who accused former Congressman Cliff Stearns of attempting to bribe him to bail on an election now accuses the FBI of taking a dive in revealing the truth about his allegation.

In court records filed last week, Jimmy Jett, who challenged Stearns in the 2012 Republican primary for Florida's redrawn 3rd Congressional District, maintains that the FBI was 'highly generalized and overly broad' in its rationale for withholding information its agents compiled during the investigation.

Accordingly, the former Clay County court clerk wants a judge to review many of the 66 pages the FBI did disclose to him and determine whether the government acted within the scope of federal public records laws. Continue>>>
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campaign, Congress, FBI, Florida
September 25, 2014 10:31 AM

The FBI requires state and local police to keep quiet about the capabilities of a controversial type of surveillance gear that allows law enforcement to eavesdrop on cellphone calls and track individual people based on the signals emitted by their mobile devices, according to a bureau document released recently under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The December 2012 document is a heavily redacted letter between the FBI and police in Tacoma, Wash., as the local department sought to acquire an IMSI catcher, sometimes described as a 'fake cellphone tower' because it tricks individual phones into routing their calls and other data through the surveillance equipment. The Tacoma police were buying gear produced by Harris Corp., a Florida-based company that makes the StingRay and other IMSI catchers used by law enforcement agencies across the country.

The FBI letter, which was not classified but was designated as "law enforcement sensitive," told the Tacoma police chief that the Federal Communications Commission authorizes the sale of such surveillance equipment to state and local police departments on the condition that they first sign an FBI ìnon-disclosure agreement. Continue>>>
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August 6, 2014 6:21 AM

The US Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has issued a lawsuit against the FBI, as it continues its push for more information about surveillance practices. EPIC has released a statement in which it explains that it has filed official papers in which it demands access to the results of internal FBI "privacy impact assessments".

"EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain details about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's surveillance programs. The agency is required to conduct privacy impact assessments when it collects and uses personal data," it said. "However, the Bureau has failed to publicly release privacy impact assessments (PIA) for many of its programs, including facial recognition, drones and licence-plate readers."

The FBI is required to release the information by the guidelines of the US Justice Department and through the rules of the E-Government Act. EPIC said that such information is expected to be released if it is "practicable". Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:35 AM

Twenty. Years. Yesterday, July 16, 2014, the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its third report of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Lab misconduct first alleged twenty years ago – in 1994 – by Dr. Frederic Whitehurst.

Washington Post Investigative Reporter Spencer S. Hsu, in his coverage of this latest report, summed it up by saying, “Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.”

In 1994 Fred Whitehurst first made his whistleblower allegations of shoddy science and manipulated evidence during court proceedings in the first World Trade bombing case and later to the Justice Dept. Inspector General. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:49 PM

The FBI may be unfairly withholding its records on a photojournalist who worked an International Monetary Fund protest, a federal judge ruled.

Laura Sennett, who sometimes goes by the alias "Isis," has been published by CNN and the History Channel, among other outlets, and covered the International Monetary Fund spring meeting protests on April 12, 2008. In an affidavit, Arlington County detectives characterized her presence as an "unidentified white female videotaping/photographing the [IMF] event."

Five months after the protests, 10 armed FBI agents raided Sennett's home in Arlington, Va., and seized 26 items. Sennett's son was in the house. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted Wednesday, however, that the warrant to search Sennett's home stemmed from the protest's development "into an excuse for petty vandalism." "The search produced 'more than 7,000 pictures, two computers, several cameras and other camera equipment,'" he added. Continue>>>
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FBI, journalists
March 21, 2014 10:05 AM

As we recently covered, a judge had ordered the CIA to explain its ridiculous FOIA response tactics. The CIA had, with a straight face, first claimed it could ONLY produce hard copies of digital files from an internal security journal. Then, it said the only way it could create digital files was by printing out the files and re-scanning them. The judge noted in her order that Congress recognized government agencies would be reluctant to hand over documents to the public, which is why it directed agencies to make every reasonable effort to accommodate requests. This, of course, was not what the legislators had in mind when they crafted the Freedom of Information Act.

Now, it's the FBI being asked by a judge to explain its overuse of FOIA exemptions to withhold documents. This time, it's the (in)famous Ryan Shapiro suing our government for access to information. Shapiro is well-known by the FBI, which has attempted to shut down the prolific requester by simply refusing his FOIA requests. It justifies this violation of the FOIA by claiming (somewhat accurately) that Shapiro is utilizing a "mosaic" method to gain access to information the FBI clearly wants to keep hidden. The theory is that with enough overlapping requests, responses will turn up either different documents or inconsistent redactions, thus revealing potentially sensitive information.

Shapiro currently has six open FOIA-related lawsuits (five vs. the DOJ and one vs. the CIA). This one, originally filed in April of last year, centers on Occupy Houston-related FBI documents. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2014 6:06 AM

The Tribune used state records and trial transcripts to show how an undercover FBI agent, using the alias Carlos Vargas, formed a political committee while posing as a strip club manager in the Chicago suburb of Harvey.

The records list Vargas as providing about $140,000 to the committee, named The Harvey Good Government Group 2007. Fliers tied to the committee promoted the re-election of the suburb's controversial mayor.Continue>>>

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chicago, FBI, FOIA, illinois
November 26, 2013 3:31 PM

From PC World: The Federal Bureau of Investigation should make public a legal opinion it used to justify a past telephone records surveillance program because other agencies may still be relying on the document for surveillance justifications, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in court Tuesday.

EFF lawyer Mark Rumold asked a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the FBI to disclose a 2010 legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, telling the judges that the OLC report amounts to final policy that agencies are required to disclose under open-records law. The EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the OLC opinion in February 2011 and later filed a lawsuit after the DOJ rejected its request.

Visit PC World for more.

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November 15, 2013 12:59 PM

From Huffington Post: The FBI is going long to keep its secret files on animal rights activists a secret: It is fighting public records requests about why it keeps denying public records requests.

It's a deeply meta strategy that's also like the set-up for an Abbott and Costello routine -- but to Ryan Shapiro, the MIT doctoral candidate profiled in Mother Jones on Wednesday as "the punk rocker who can liberate your FBI file," it's nothing new.

For years, Shapiro and the agency have engaged in a tug-of-war over how many records the FBI will release to enable his academic research on the history of the animal rights movement. Since 2010, Shapiro has barraged the agency with records requests. He says he now has roughly 600 records requests open and is fighting for the release of 350,000 pages of files -- which likely makes him the agency's most prolific requester (or tormentor).

Visit Huffington Post for more.

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November 7, 2013 2:06 PM

From RT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation spent years conducting surveillance on a prominent libertarian anti-war web site, in part because the agency mistakenly believed that the activist page had tried to hack the FBI's own site, according to a new report.

FBI documents viewed by the The Guardian reveal that an investigation into Antiwar.com was motivated by an examination of a “threat” that planned to “hack the FBI web site.” Yet the site never threatened any such thing.

Visit RT for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:41 PM

From NJ.com: In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revised its operational guidelines known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Under the new marching orders, the document allowed agents to engage in limited racial and ethnic profiling when assessing criminal and terroristic threats.

The new guidelines, though, put the American Civil Liberties Union on alert. The group feared the revised guidelines would encourage FBI agents to unlawfully racially profile people, and so it ultimately launched a series of coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at gathering FBI records on its use of ethnic and racial data.

Visit NJ.com for more.

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