Posts tagged FOIA

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails



By Justin Elliott
ProPublica, July 23, 2013, 12:39 p.m.


NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails




The NSA is a “supercomputing powerhouse” with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees’ email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts.

A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search emails only “person by person,” rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.

I reached out to the NSA press office seeking more information but got no response.

It’s actually common for large corporations to do bulk searches of their employees email as part of internal investigations or legal discovery.

“It’s just baffling,” says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request.”

Federal agencies’ public records offices are often underfunded, according to Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at University of Maryland and a longtime observer of FOIA issues.

But, Daglish says, “If anybody is going to have the money to engage in evaluation of digital information, it’s the NSA for heaven’s sake.”

For more on the NSA, read our story on the agency’s tapping of Internet cables, our fact-check on claims about the NSA and Sept. 11, and our timeline of surveillance law.

MIT Moves to Block the Release of the Aaron Swartz Files



By Michael Krieger

MIT Moves to Block the Release of the Aaron Swartz Files


The co-founder of social news website Reddit committed suicide in New York City on Friday. Aaron Swartz was facing a controversial trial over the alleged violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He faced decades in prison and a $1 million fine.

Aaron Swartz. (Image from / photo by Fred Benenson)

Unfortunately, this is just further proof that most of our celebrated institutions, including prestigious palaces of “higher learning,” are nothing more than apologists and gatekeepers for plutocratic power. It was only a little less than two weeks ago that I wrote a story celebrating how a U.S. judge decided the government must release thousands of pages of secret service files on the late Aaron Swartz. Apparently, MIT isn’t comfortable in the many skeletons they likely have in their closet coming out, so they have moved to block the release. The plaintiff in the case, Kevin Poulsen explains below in a Wired article:

Lawyers representing MIT are filing a motion to intervene in my FOIA lawsuit over thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz.

I am the plaintiff in this lawsuit. In February, the Secret Service denied in full my request for any files it held on Swartz, citing a FOIA exemption that covers sensitive law enforcement records that are part of an ongoing proceeding. Other requestors reported receiving the same response.

When the agency ignored my administrative appeal, I enlisted David Sobel, a top DC-based FOIA litigator, and we filed suit. Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the government to “promptly” begin releasing Swartz’ records. The government told my lawyer that it would release the first batch tomorrow. But minutes ago, Kollar-Kotelly suspended that order at MIT’s urging, to give the university time to make an argument against the release of some of the material.



Photo added to original post.

Related posts:

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Aaron Swartz’s Last Gift: Site Launches Whistleblower Safe House

Aaron Swartz Files Reveal How FBI Tracked Internet Activist

U.S. government site hacked to avenge internet activist

Good News: Judge Orders U.S. to Release Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File



By Michael Krieger

Good News: Judge Orders U.S. to Release Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File


The co-founder of social news website Reddit committed suicide in New York City on Friday. Aaron Swartz was facing a controversial trial over the alleged violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He faced decades in prison and a $1 million fine.

Aaron Swartz. (Image from / photo by Fred Benenson)


What is so disturbing about this aspect of the Aaron Swartz tragedy is the fact that the Secret Service had thousands of pages on Aaron Swartz to begin with.  Considering he was known to all as a kind and gentle soul, what was the Secret Service so worried about?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is now inescapably clear.  When the U.S. government refers to “national security,” what it actually means is the wealth and power of the status quo, the 0.01%.  That is why a genius such as Aaron Swartz was considered an enemy of the state, and why the government amassed thousands of pages on him and drove him to his death. His genius and kindness was a threat to the corrupt establishment.  As I’ve noted before:  All My Heroes Have FBI Files.  From Wired:

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Friday ordered the government to promptly start releasing thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz, following months of roadblocks and delays.

The order was issued in my ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security – the Secret Service’s parent agency.


It was Secret Service agents who, in 2011, investigated Swartz’ bulk downloads from the JSTOR academic database, leading to the computer hacking and wire fraud case that loomed over Swartz at the time he committed suicide in January.

That criminal case was formally dismissed after Swartz’s death. Yet in February, the Secret Service denied in full my request for any files it held on Swartz, citing a FOIA exemption that covers sensitive law enforcement records that are part of an ongoing proceeding.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly is giving the government until August 5 to answer the lawsuit and produce a timetable for releasing all the responsive documents. In the meantime, the government has to start releasing the files it’s already processed. You’ll see them here when I get them.

Full article here.

In Liberty,

Follow me on Twitter!


Image added to original post.

Related posts:

Aaron Swartz’s Last Gift: Site Launches Whistleblower Safe House

Aaron Swartz Files Reveal How FBI Tracked Internet Activist

U.S. government site hacked to avenge internet activist


FBI sued over secretive facial recognition program



FBI sued over secretive facial recognition program


Reuters / Michael Caronna


Soon the FBI will be done building a database containing the photographs, fingerprints and other biometric data for millions of Americans, but the agency has been far from forthcoming with the details. A new lawsuit filed this week aims to change that.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital rights group based out of California, sued the United States Department of Justice this week for failing to comply with multiple Freedom of Information Act requests filed last year by the EFF.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation received no fewer than three FOIA requests from the EFF last year for details about its state-of-the-art Next Generation Identification program, or NGI, a system that will store personally-identifiable data for millions of Americans and foreign nationals to act as what the FBI has called a “bigger, faster and better” version of what law enforcement already uses. But while the bureau has indeed already been using fingerprint information to track down potential terrorists and troublemakers for years, the EFF’s main concern revolves around what sort of space-age face recognition abilities NGI will be able to employ.

The FBI previously acknowledged that NGI will “house multimodal biometrics records like palm prints and iris scans” in one master system, as well as facial imaging information and intelligence about scars, marks and tattoos. Eventually, the agency said, it hopes to incorporate technology to track down people using only their voice. For now, though, the EFF is interested in what the facial recognition infrastructure will be able to do, and is demanding the FBI fesses up.

NGI will change almost everything about how the FBI treats photograph submissions,” the complaint filed this week reads. Citing government documents, the EFF says that the system will allow “the increased capacity to retain photographic images, additional opportunities for agencies to submit photographic images and additional search capabilities, including automated searches.”

The proposed new system would also allow law enforcement ‘to collect and retain other images (such as those obtained from crime scene security cameras’ and from family and friends) and would allow submission of ‘civil photographs along with civil fingerprint submissions that were collected for noncriminal purposes,’” the EFF continues.

When all is said and done, the FBI will be able to use NGI to scan millions of entries in a single database to find someone based off of a single photograph, and the EFF fears that could send things down a slippery slope.

Governmental use of face recognition — and the potential for misuse — raises many privacy concerns,” the EFF says in the lawsuit.

AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan

Using statements already made by the FBI about the program, the EFF presents an argument about why they should be worried that’s hard to counter.

The FBI has also stated in a public presentation given at a national biometrics conference that it wants to use its facial recognition system to ‘identify unknown persons of interest from images’ and ‘identify subjects in public datasets,’” the complaint continues. “In the same presentation, the FBI included a graphic image that implied the Bureau wanted to use facial recognition to be able to track people from one political rally to another.”

Another digital watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, previously alleged that NGI system could be integrated with other surveillance technology in order to enable “real-time image-matching of live feeds from CCTV surveillance cameras.”

Obtaining information about how the FBI will manage and operate this information has been a priority for the EFF for over a year now, and the failure to comply with those FOIA requests has finally prompted the organization to ask a court to intervene.

NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes,” EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said in a statement this week. “Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote and mass capture of their images.”

The EFF is asking the court to enforce the FOIA requests sent last June and July, which could compel the FBI to disclose information about the face-recognition program and any plans to merge civilian and criminal records in a single database. They are also asking for the total number of face-recognition capable records currently in the database and an assessment of what number the agency expects to have when it rolls out the program in 2014.

Before the federal government decides to expand its surveillance powers, there needs to be a public debate,” Lynch said. “But there can be no public debate until the details of the program are presented to the public.”

In a July 18, 2012 assessment, the FBI reported that the program was “on scope, on schedule, on cost and 60 percent deployed.” The program is being put together by contractors Lockheed Martin, who are expected to rake in $1 billion from the government by the time the NGI system is finally up and running.

The FBI previously admitted that they found 7,380 records that were “potentially responsive” to one of the EFF’s request, but has yet to deliver actual information pursuant to any of the three FOIA submissions filed, prompting the nonprofit to allege the FBI is “dragging its feet.”

FBI has not explained to the public how NGI or IAFIS’s system design would ensure that civil submissions are not ‘tainted’ by criminal submissions or explained why it is necessary to combine the two types of data,” the EFF wrote in the complaint.

New FAA drone list reveals over 20 more public entities authorized to fly drones over United States



By Madison Ruppert

Editor of End the Lie

New FAA drone list reveals over 20 more public entities authorized to fly drones over United States  More at - new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone authorization list obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit reveals more than 20 additional public entities allowed to fly drones over the United States.

This news comes as Charlottesville, Virginia passes a resolution banning drones, the entire state of Virginia might pass a drone moratorium, a Justice Department white paper was leaked outlining the supposed legal justification for the drone assassination program, the Obama administration is reportedly going to release legal memos to intelligence committees and the location of a CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia was revealed after two large media outlets withheld it at the government’s request.

This brings the total to 81 public entities authorized by the FAA to fly drones as of October 2012, according to the list obtained by the EFF. Keep in mind, documents obtained by the EFF reveal that drones are already flying over the United States.

Furthermore, we now know the military is operating drones domestically and sharing data with law enforcement, at least one National Guard unit uses drones, the Department of Homeland Security has embraced small spy drones and colleges and universities are offering more drone piloting programs to keep up with this drone boom.

End the Lie contacted the EFF’s media liaison by phone, confirming that this list is not merely applicants but indeed entities that have been authorized to fly drones over America.

Some of the newly approved agencies include the State Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and several sheriff’s departments including Canyon County Sheriff’s Office (Idaho), Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office (Northwest Oregon), Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department (North Dakota) and King County Sheriff’s Office (covering Seattle, Washington).

Another interesting new addition highlighted by the EFF is the Barona Band of Mission Indians Risk Management Office (near San Diego, California).

Interestingly, Ohio had several new entities approved, including the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio Department of Transportation, Sinclair Community College and Lorain County Community College.

This is noteworthy because Ohio is home to a university engaged in cutting edge drone research and has pro-drone legislators.

The concerns raised by this new list are legion. One of the most significant concerns is the privacy and civil liberties implications of domestic drone use, especially given the advances in drone technology.

Among the most worrisome advances are: the capability of potentially constant surveillance thanks to solar power and laser-based charging methods, drone-based facial recognition technology, automated tracking systems, a drone-based camera capable of capturing 36 square miles of imagery at once, ultra-stealthy drones and even fully automated weapons systems.

The EFF also points out, “Even the smallest drones can carry a host of surveillance equipment, from video cameras and thermal imaging to GPS tracking and cellphone eavesdropping tools. They can also be equipped with advanced forms of radar detection, license plate cameras, and facial recognition.”

The EFF hopes that the release of the new list will “spur more people to ask their local law enforcement agencies about their drone programs.”

Thanks to a partnership with MuckRock, it’s even easier to request this information from your local agencies.

The EFF is encouraging people to “ask hard questions of government officials about who is funding drone development in their communities and what policies the government will demand agencies follow if they fly drones.”

“We need greater transparency and citizen push-back to protect Americans from privacy-invasive domestic drone use,” the EFF concludes.


About Madison Ruppert

Madison Ruppert is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist and researcher as well as the founder, owner, administrator and editor of He has no affiliations with any government agencies, political parties, non-governmental organizations, or economic schools. He is available for freelance writing assignments and appearances or interviews in any format. He can be reached by emailing

Gun Printing: James Corbett Reports

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Gary Franchi interviews James Corbett connecting from Japan on Next News Network on various topics including the future of 3D printing, intellectual property, free speech, upcoming government regulations, local drone surveillance and much more.

Texas Schools to Begin Tracking Students With IDs Embedded with RFID Chips



By Madison Ruppert

In an attempt to get more money from the state, a middle school and high school in Texas are implementing a program in which student IDs will be outfitted with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in order to track their movements around school.

If you’re unfamiliar with this technology, a great primer on the subject has been written by Brent Daggett for End the Lie and I highly recommend you take a few minutes to explore some of the other applications of RFID, many of which are nothing short of disturbing.

As is so often done when it comes to surveillance technology, this is being sold to us as something for our own good and the good of our children. This is identical to how the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is pushing their ludicrously unconstitutional license plate surveillance program I detail in the below video:

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The Northside Independent School District (NISD) of San Antonio, Texas has already approved the tracking devices and according to local news outlet KVUE, an ABC affiliate, two schools in the district will have the program in place next year.

They characterize the RFID-equipped student IDs as somewhat “like a GPS for teachers and administrators” which will help them pinpoint the location of students around campus.

“Every parent wants us to know where their child is at school,” claimed NISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez.

I find this claim nothing short of laughable. Never before has this even been an issue, let alone one which “every parent” would be concerned about.

Growing up my parents knew I was at school; they couldn’t care less if I was in the bathroom, the library, a classroom or any other location.

To me, Gonzalez’s claim is so absurd that it is almost hard to believe that anyone would even attempt to use such a nonsensical argument.

What parent cares what particular room their child is in? One legitimate concern might be if your child is ditching school, but an RFID isn’t required for that, there’s this crazy newfangled thing called “attendance” or “roll” which determines if students are present in class.

If I had a child in a public school, I would be much more concerned about him or her being targeted by police, attacked and/or criminalized. The last of my concerns would be if my child was in the restroom at 11:18 AM or where in the cafeteria they were during lunch time.

Any parent who desperately wants to know precisely where their child is at school during every minute of every day would, in my humble opinion, likely benefit from some professional counseling.


The House Passes CISPA with a vote of 248 to 168


CISPA, vote

By Alex Wilhelm

CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, has just passed the House by a vote of 248 to 168. The vote was largely along partisan lines, with some leaking.

The bill attracted several amendements along the way to passage today, including measures from Rogers concerning the Freedom of Information Act, and the Quayle amendment that dictated information collected could only be used in a set number of circumstances.

However, the bill’s future is murky. It has to get past the Senate, in some form, and then through the desk of the President, who yesterday floated a veto threat of the Act, signaling unhappiness with its potential lack of privacy controls.

Many have found the bill to be troublesome, given that, in their estimation, its language was too broad to be safe. Also that the government could use the mandates and powers contained therein in ways that would be antithetical to privacy, and even in the cause of cyber security, could be too intrusive. TNW joined in their discontent.

We will be covering the bill’s next steps extremely closely. For more, check all of TNW’s CISPA coverage.

For a quick look at the Senate’s version of CISPA, check this article from the EFF. There are two ‘competing’ bills being considered in the Senate that could be reconciled with CISPA. Between the two bills, here’s one o the critical differences, if you want the short version:

[T]he language varies from bill to bill, but for the most part, the strongest restriction on the countermeasures is that there be a “defensive intent” (language that appears in both the Lieberman and McCain bills). The Lieberman bill mentions “modify[ing] or block[ing] data packets,” while the McCain bill is more vague.

Government can’t keep up with information requests




WASHINGTON — The Obama administration couldn’t keep pace with the increasing number of people asking for copies of government documents, emails, photographs and more under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by The Associated Press.

Federal agencies did better last year trying to fulfill requests, but still fell further behind with backlogs, due mostly to surges in immigration records requested from the Homeland Security Department. It released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought — and outright rejected other requests — at about the same rate as the previous two years. The AP analyzed figures over the last three years from 37 of the largest federal departments and agencies.

There was progress: The government responded to more requests than ever in 2011 — more than 576,000 — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Offices less frequently cited legal provisions that allow them to keep records secret, especially emails and documents describing how federal officials make important decisions. Agencies took less time, on average, to turn over records: about one month for requests it considered “simple” and about three months for more complicated requests. And 23 of 37 agencies reduced their individual backlogs of requests or kept buildups from increasing.

The government’s responsiveness under the Freedom of Information Act is widely viewed as a barometer of how transparent federal offices are. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

Across the 37 agencies, the government turned over all or parts of the records people sought in about 65 percent of requests that it considered, a minor improvement over last year. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, also a minor improvement over last year, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law.

The White House touted its success under its own analysis of how it performed. It said more employees worked to turn over files that people asked for, and it increased the budget for such efforts by $19 million last year. It said cabinet-level agencies that are directly under the White House’s control showed particular improvement. The White House routinely excludes from its assessment instances when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law, and says under this calculation that it released all or parts of records sought in 93 percent of requests.

“It is not surprising to see more FOIA requests sent in to an administration that has emphasized transparency,” White House Spokesman Eric Schultz said. “We’re making a strong effort to keep up with that demand by devoting more resources to it.”

Even as the Obama administration increased its efforts, people submitted 587,815 requests for information in fiscal 2011 at the 37 agencies reviewed by the AP — about an 8 percent increase over the previous year’s figure of 546,445. The administration also agreed more often — in about 25 percent of requests last year — to quickly consider information sought about subjects described as urgent or especially newsworthy. It was the second time in three years that people asked more than half-a-million times for records.


FEMA Follows DHS In Monitoring News Coverage Of Its Activities 24/7



(PRISON PLANET)    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has followed in the footsteps of the DHS in looking to hire a private contractor that will monitor news coverage of the agency’s activities on a 24/7 basis.

“FEMA is planning to award a 100% small business set-aside contract to a media monitoring firm that can monitor, archive and measure all local news in “major Nielsen markets,” all nationally broadcast news and all cable outlets for their news coverage of FEMA activities in the field across the U.S., reports Government Security News.

The program is similar in nature to a Department of Homeland Security monitoring effort that stoked controversy and a congressional hearing after it emerged that the DHS had hired an outside contractor, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, to monitor social media outlets along with a list of websites, on a “24/7/365 basis,” in order to uncover “any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department.”

This included monitoring remarks by residents of Standish, Michigan in “newspaper comment talkbacks, local blogs, Twitter posts, and publicly available Facebook posts,” to gage the response to a plan to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to a local prison.

Although the FEMA contract does not specifically mention the monitoring of blogs and comments made by Internet users, it does call for the program to “Monitor the effectiveness of public affairs messaging,” which implies that feedback from citizens regarding FEMA’s activities will be part of the process.

The FEMA contract for the monitoring service explains that the agency is looking for information on “media statistics including the audience exposure and publicity value” for news items related to FEMA.

Concerned about its reputation in the eyes of American citizens who are growing increasingly wary of big government, this is not the first time FEMA has reached out to try and massage its image following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which “evoked some of the harshest criticism the agency has ever faced.”

As we exclusively reported in 2006, a story that was later confirmed by KSLA news agency the following year, FEMA has created ‘Clergy Response Teams’ trained by the federal government to “quell dissent” and pacify citizens to obey the government in the event of a declaration of martial law.

The program recruited pastors and other religious representatives to become secret police enforcers who teach their congregations to “obey the government” in preparation for the implementation of martial law, property and firearm seizures, mass vaccination programs and forced relocation.

Even in the absence of such emergencies, the federal government has already announced that it is actively monitoring social media for signs of “social unrest”, in a bid to pre-empt any sign of civil dislocation within the United States.

Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security yesterday stonewalled a Congressional hearing into the DHS’ monitoring of news and social media by refusing to give specific answers on what measures were being taken to prevent the program creating a “chilling effect” whereby people would be afraid to leave negative comments in online forums for fear of retribution.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, who obtained 300 documents via a FOIA requestdetailing how the DHS was tracking websites like the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Facebook and Twitter, submitted a statement to the Subcommittee Hearing arguing that “The DHS monitoring of social networks and media organizations is entirely without legal basis and threatens important free speech and expression rights.”

Watch a KSLA report on FEMA’s ‘Clergy Response Teams’ below.


Related posts:

FBI Latest Government Agency to Target Social Media

Homeland Security monitoring web for anti-government sentiment and signs of social unrest

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