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Category Archives: Freedom of Information

US DOJ IG Report – Review of the FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders

FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders: Assessment of Progress in Implementing Recommendations and Examination of Use in 2007 through 2009, Oversight and Review Division Report 15-05. May 2015. Redacted.

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced today the release of a public version of its most recent report examining the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) use of the investigative authority granted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act to obtain business records. The OIG provided a classified version of this report to Congress and to DOJ leadership in February 2015. The report reviews the FBI’s use of Section 215 authority from 2007 through 2009, and also examines the DOJ’s and FBI’s progress in addressing the
recommendations contained in the OIG’s 2008 report on the FBI’s use of Section 215. This is the OIG’s third report since 2007 on the FBI’s use of Section 215 authority.As described in the public version of the report released today, the OIG found that from 2007through 2009 the DOJ, on behalf of the FBI, submitted 51 Section 215 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court), all of which were approved. The report notes that the scope of business records sought under Section 215 greatly expanded in response to legislative changes, technological advances, and strategic choices, and that Section 215 orders have been used in investigations of groups comprised of unknown members and to obtain information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation. We concluded that these developments require continued and significant oversight by appropriate entities, including the FISA Court and the DOJ’s National Security Division. We also concluded that the DOJ and the FBI have addressed the three recommendations from our 2008 report, but that with respect to one of the recommendations the DOJ should have met its statutory obligation considerably earlier than it did…Section 215 allows the FBI to seek an order from the FISA Court to obtain “any tangible thing,”including books, records, and other items, from anybusiness, organization, or entity, provided the item or items are for an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorismor clandestine intelligence activities. The report publicly released today describes how legislative and technological changes, including society’s increased use of the Internet, have expanded the quality and quantity of electronic information available through the use of Section 215 authority. We found that the FBI has broadened the scope of the materials it has sought, and that the materials produced in response to Section 215 orders range from hard copy reproductions of business ledgers and receipts to gigabytes of metadata and other electronic information. Moreover, Section 215 authority is not limited to requesting information related to the known subjects of specific underlying investigations, and we found that the authority has been used in investigations of groups comprised of unknown members and to obtain information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation.”

Investigating With Databases: Verifying Data Quality

“The Verification Handbook for Investigative Reporting is a new guide to online search and research techniques to using user-generated content and open source information in investigations. Published by the European Journalism Centre, a GIJN member based in the Netherlands, the manual consists of ten chapters and is available for free download. We’re pleased to reprint below chapter 5,Continue Reading

Landmark Open Data Legislation to be Introduced

Data Transparency Coalition – “Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors will introduce the Financial Transparency Act of 2015 at a press conference tomorrow at 2 pm in room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Supporters of open data and the public are welcome to attend. Issa’s office issued a media advisory late Monday evening confirming heContinue Reading

Inspector General Warns: Significant Oversight of Section 215 Required

EPIC – “The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General released a report this month detailing the FBI’s use of Section 215 and warning that “significant oversight” is required. The Inspector General describes the FBI’s expanding use of 215 to collect electronic information in bulk and criticized the agency for taking seven years to develop minimizationContinue Reading

Reddit Now Sharing Notices with Chilling Effects

Chilling Effects Team on May 13, 2015 [Chilling Effects is a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.] “We at Chilling Effects are thrilled to share Reddit’s announcement that the site has begun sharing takedown notices with us! Following on the heels of the release of its first transparency report earlier this year,Continue Reading

Most Agencies Falling Short on Mandate for Online Records

“Nearly 20 years after Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only 40 percent of agencies have followed the law’s instruction for systematic posting of records released through FOIA in their electronic reading rooms, according to a new FOIA Audit released today by the National Security Archive at www.nsarchive.org to mark SunshineContinue Reading

UK government rewrites law to permit GCHQ hacking

Privacy International – May 15, 2015: The Government has quietly ushered through legislation amending the anti-hacking laws to exempt GCHQ from prosecution. Privacy International and other parties were notified of this just hours prior to a hearing of their claim against GCHQ’s illegal hacking operations in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. In its legal filings, sentContinue Reading

NARA proposed rules – how Executive Branch offices and agencies handle Controlled Unclassified Information

NARA issues proposed rules on how Executive Branch offices and agencies handle Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). “President Obama issued a memorandum on January 21, 2009 that articulated his plan to make government activity more open and accessible to ordinary citizens. In that memo, the president explains that a fundamental characteristic of democracy is transparency andContinue Reading

Appropriations for LC and CRS – no public access to CRS reports

LEGISLATIVE BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2016 – spotlight on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS [via FAS]: “The Committee recommends $591,431,000 for the operations of  the Library of Congress. This is $33,071,000 below the budget  request and is $510,000 above the current level. In addition to  the appropriation, the Committee recommends offsetting  collections of $42,127,000. Established by Congress inContinue Reading

EFF Case Analysis: Appeals Court Rules NSA Phone Records Dragnet is Illegal

Andrew Crocker – “We now have the first decision from a court of appeals on the NSA’s mass surveillance program involving bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and it’s a doozy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion in ACLU v. Clapper holding thatContinue Reading

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Launches FOIA Complaint Site

Tell Us Your Experience with FOIA – Tell us about issues that you have had with Freedom of Information Act requests.  What Happened? Excessive or inappropriate redactions Lengthy delays Administrative closures Requests to narrow or limit the scope Delayed appeals or refusals to mediate Unreasonable denial of fee waivers Other…

When Is a Justice Department Rule Not a Rule? Report From Twitter’s Transparency Fight

EFF – Karen Gullo – “When is a government rule not a rule? Making that question difficult, when it should be simple, seems to be the government’s leading strategy in a hearing this week in Twitter Inc.’s lawsuit challenging the government’s squelching of its transparency report. Twitter wants to provide a closer look at howContinue Reading