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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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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October 10, 2013 3:29 PM

From RT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has turned over new documents detailing how the FBI collects cell phone location information about criminal suspects, but most of the secretive program will remain under wraps for now.

The latest trove of documents was published this week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a DC-based public interest research group that specializes in issues involving surveillance and security.

Visit RT for more.

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September 11, 2013 10:41 AM

From ACLU: The ACLU and the ACLU of New Jersey are in federal appeals court today in a second challenge to FBI claims of secrecy concerning its troubling nationwide racial and ethnic mapping program. The argument comes in a lawsuit filed in 2011, after the FBI refused to adequately respond to our Freedom of Information Act request for records about which American communities it's spying on in New Jersey. We recently argued in federal appeals court in a parallel lawsuit for FBI records about the same surveillance program in Michigan.

Once again, we are pushing back against FBI claims of secrecy over a program we exposed as being used to spy on entire racial and ethnic groups based on nothing more than crude stereotypes. Still, in New Jersey (as in Michigan), the FBI seeks to hide its use of U.S. census data and other public source information that would tell us which communities it is profiling and how many are impacted. And it is again asking a court to approve a one-sided, secret judicial process to decide whether the FBI can keep information secret under FOIA. These positions undercut the FOIA, which Congress passed to promote government transparency and accountability, and the public right of access that is central to our judicial system and democracy.

Visit ACLU for more.

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July 30, 2013 10:37 AM

From Jason Leopold at The Public Record: A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan organization Cause of Action posted a story on its website about a secret Pentagon policy that calls for certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that may generate media attention to first be approved by the Pentagon.

Naturally, I was eager to find out what FOIA requests analysts believed would be of interest to the Pentagon. So, I filed a FOIA for a copy of the list of those FOIAs.

On Friday, the Office of Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff sent me the list. It makes for interesting reading.

[...]

[R]equests included several filed with the Army for documents related to the pre-trial hearing of Pfc. Bradley Manning; Air Force contracting documents; Guantanamo records; congressional correspondence; presidential travel documents; “investigations of violent crimes allegedly committed by civilian contracts in Iraq or Afghanistan” American University filed with the Defense Contracting Management Agency (DMCA) ...

Also from the Public Record:  We're suing the FBI for records on journalist Michael Hastings.

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May 22, 2013 2:00 PM

From Huffington Post:  WASHINGTON -- Two editors of AntiWar.com sued the FBI on Tuesday, alleging that the bureau has failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents about the government's investigation of the website.

FBI documents posted online show that the bureau recommended opening an investigation into the website in 2004 after it posted terrorist watch-lists online.

 

May 10, 2013 11:19 AM

From Dissenter.com:  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has received documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that provide details on FBI and Justice Department policies, which appear to suggest the federal authorities can read emails without obtaining a warrant.

The FBI provided a copy of a 2012 Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) that had not been made public. It contained nothing about the Fourth Amendment requiring a warrant for all emails.

 

April 18, 2013 2:41 PM

From CNET news:

The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a controversial data-sharing bill that would authorize e-mail and Internet providers to share confidential information with the federal government.

By a 288-127 vote today, the House adopted the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA, which supporters say is necessary to protect American networks from electronic attacks and intrusions. The vote signals more support for the bill than it enjoyed last year, when it cleared the House by a narrower margin but died in the Senate.

[...]

CISPA is controversial because it overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying "notwithstanding any other provision of law," including privacy policies and wiretap laws, companies may share cybersecurity-related information "with any other entity, including the federal government." It would not, however, require them to do so.

That language has alarmed dozens of advocacy groups, including the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders, which sent a letter (PDF) to Congress last month opposing CISPA. It says: "CISPA's information sharing regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like Internet records or the content of e-mails, to any agency in the government." President Barack Obama this week threatened to veto CISPA.

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