- History of FOIA
- FOIA How To
- All FOIA Requests
- The Foilies
- Los Angeles Automated License Plate Readers
- National Security Letters
- FBI's Next Generation Identification Biometric System
- FISA Court Orders
- California Database Catalogs
- Hemipshere: AT&T Secret Telephone Surveillance
All FOIA Requests
EFF sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2011 for answers about “secret interpretations” of a controversial section of the law. In June 2013, a leaked FISA court order publicly revealed that “secret interpretation”: the government was using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect the phone records of virtually every person in the United States.
EFF filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), receiving thousands of pages about the certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for the operation of unmanned aircrafts, also known as drones. The Federal Aviation Authority, part of the DOT, is the sole entity within the federal government responsible for authorizing domestic drone flights, providing a certification or authorization for any drone flying over 400 feet. Prior to our suit, there was no information available to the public about who specifically had obtained these authorizations or for what purposes. Through our lawsuit, we received specific and detailed information on the drone licensing process that was never before released. This prompted significant public awareness and discussion about the privacy and surveillance issues with drones. EFF partnered with MuckRock, an open government organization that helps individuals send requests for public records, to crowd-source FOIA requests to local law enforcement agencies about their use of unmanned aircrafts.
EFF filed suit against three agencies of the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding records about problems or limitations that hamper electronic surveillance and potentially justify or undermine the Administration's new calls for expanded surveillance powers.
EFF filed suit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a half-dozen other federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, demanding the immediate release of reports about potential misconduct. These agencies are required to submit periodic reports of "any intelligence activities of their organizations that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive" to the Intelligence Oversight Board. The board, consisting of private citizens with security clearances, is tasked with reviewing those reports, summarizing them, and forwarding to the president those that it believes describe violations of the law. Through EFF's lawsuit, we obtained and published publicly thousands of pages of documents from these misconduct reports. Contrary to official promises about embracing transparency, our suit unveiled not only extensive, illegal misuse of intelligence gathering and surveillance powers, but also a practice of routinely covering up such abuses.
EFF and the Samuelson Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law filed suit against a half-dozen government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collection, and surveillance. In response to our lawsuit, we received training materials, manuals, powerpoint presentations, memos, and an array of other materials that helped shed light on how government agencies use social networking sites. Among other findings, we found evidence that the government has been considering social networks as a data source when conducting background checks in security clearances. We also found information about how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services used social networks when considering citizenship requests and how the IRS turned to social networking sites to investigate taxpayers. We were particularly interested to see that certain agencies had established privacy policies for monitoring social networking sites while others were silent on user privacy.
EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding the release of a secret legal memo used to justify FBI access to Americans' telephone records without any legal process or oversight.
In 2007 after Wired reported on evidence that the FBI was able to use “secret spyware” to track the source of e-mailed bomb threats against a Washington state high school EFF submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the technology. The documents we received discuss endpoint surveillance technology the FBI calls a “web bug” or a “Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier” (CIPAV) which seems to have been in use since at least 2001.
The investigative technique known as National Security Letters (NSLs) was greatly expanded under the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing the FBI to obtain telephone, Internet, financial, credit, and other personal records of anyone associated with an authorized terrorism or espionage investigation. These orders, issued without a court's approval, come with a gag order, preventing recipients of such letters from discussing the NSL publicly and thus limiting opportunity for public oversight of this expansive power. In the wake of the Department of Justice's inspector general report confirming extensive misuse of NSLs, EFF began litigation seeking information about the FBI's abuse of this power. Through EFF's lawsuits, we were able to obtain thousands of pages of documents over several years showcasing the scope and, often, repeated abuse of the NSL authority. An EFF report based on these documents led to tough questions for the FBI before Congress. The documents also helped prompt the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress. After months of ongoing controversy, Gonzales resigned from his position as head of the Justice Department.
The Department of Justice has an office called the Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section which works to develop and implement strategies for combating computer and intellectual property crimes. Among other things CCIPS advises front-line agents how to perform electronic surveillance. EFF has submitted FOIA requests for versions of this guidance not already available to the public.
EFF submitted FOIA requests to several government agencies seeking information related to the agencies' use of "printer dots" -- tracking codes embedded in pages printed from certain printers.
In February 2008 EFF requested documents from the FBI related to its surveillance of Skype communications a common Voice-over-IP (VoIP) program. The request came after an article in Computerworld Magazine suggesting that German law enforcement had commissioned a private company to create "Skype-hacking Trojan." EFF sought to discover whether the FBI had a similar capability.
EFF sued the Department of Homeland Security to learn more about the Automated Targeting System (ATS), an invasive, unprecedented data-mining system deployed on American travelers. ATS reviews data from seven large government databases plus the Passenger Name Record data obtained from the airlines. Individuals who travel internationally are assigned "risk assessments" via ATS, which Customs and Border Protection officers use to decide whether to subject passengers to further interrogation and search. Under ATS, individuals have no way to access information about their own "risk assessment" scores or to correct any false information about them. EFF's suit sought data about ATS, including all Privacy Impact Assessments for the ATS, all records that describe redress for individuals who believe the system includes inaccurate information, and all records that discuss potential consequences for travelers as a result of the system. Through our lawsuit, we received and published hundreds of pages of documents, and produced an interim report describing our findings, shedding light on the instant, personal, and detailed dossier created for all international travelers.
In December 2005 NBC News reported that the Department of Defense had created a database of more than 1500 “suspicious incidents” throughout the United States over a ten-month period. The DOD insisted that all of its domestic intelligence was “properly collected” for the “protection of Defense Department installations interests and personnel.” However the DOD later admitted that it had improperly collected Threat and Local Observation Notice (“TALON”) reports on peaceful demonstrators.
In September 2006 EFF requested copies of and National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awards to fund the development of wireless microelectromechanical sensor technology for law enforcement intelligence gathering or military purposes so-called "smart dust."
In October 2006 the NSF released three separate grant awards to George Washington University the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri totaling almost $1 million for the development the technology.
In this case EFF sought information concerning the Pentagon's monitoring of military websites including soldiers' blogs. According to news reports an Army unit called the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell ("AWRAC") reviews hundreds of thousands of websites every month notifying webmasters and bloggers when it sees information it finds inappropriate. Some soliders have told reporters that they have cut back on their posts or shut down their sites altogether because of the military's policies on blogging.
In 2009 EFF sent a FOIA request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking documents related to the FCC's claimed authority to conduct warrantless searches of private residences in order to inspect radio equipment.
In 2007 EFF submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Homeland Security for information about a trial-stage data mining program called Analysis Dissemination Visualization Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). This system was intended to sift through a wide variety of databases to find suspicious patterns between people and organizations.
In November 2008 EFF requested the unredacted "For Official Use Only" version of Secretary Chertoff's July 18 2008 response to Joseph Lieberman Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding DHS's role in the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.
In April 2009 the Department of Homeland Security released the document.
EFF has filed suits against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice demanding any information about telecommunications companies' efforts to get off the hook for their role in the government's illegal electronic surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. EFF's suits ask for the immediate disclosure of the agencies' telecom lobbying records including any documents concerning briefings discussions or other contacts officials have had with representatives of telecommunications companies or members of Congress.
The Terrorist Screening Center maintains the U.S. government’s consolidated terrorist watch list. Since its creation in 2003, the list has been criticized repeatedly for its lack of accuracy and effective redress among other flaws. EFF has submitted FOIA requests for complaints from individuals who believe they've wrongly been flagged as watch list matches.
EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding records on three controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance provisions that expire early next year unless Congress renews them.
The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and EFF have filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for denying access to public records on the questioning and searches of travelers at U.S. borders.
EFF and Public Knowledge filed suit on September 17 2008 against the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) demanding information about a secret intellectual property enforcement treaty that the government has put on a fast track to completion.
In 2007 EFF requested copies of contracts for document digitization services between eight federal agencies and Google or other technology companies.
Over the next year the agencies released a number of contracts with Google and other technology firms. We are expecting further releases from NASA and the USDA.
EFF has filed suit on behalf of a member of the European Parliament demanding that the U.S. government release records about her "risk assessment" score and other information gathered about her during her international travels. The lawsuit came just days after the disclosure that the U.S. and the European Union may soon finalize an agreement authorizing the transatlantic exchange of large amounts of personal data.
EFF has filed suit against the Department of Justice demanding information about communications between the agency's former top privacy official and Google the official's current employer.
This Freedom of Information Act case seeks disclosure of FBI records concerning the scope and privacy impact of the Bureau’s Investigative Data Warehouse (“IDW”) a huge database that contains hundreds of millions of records containing personal information. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 the FBI began development of the IDW “to provide counterterrorism investigators and analysts with quick easy access to the full breadth of information relating to terrorism.” As of March 2005 the database contained more than 100 million pages of terrorism-related documents.
EFF filed suit against the Department of Justice in June of 2009 demanding the public release of the surveillance guidelines that govern investigations of Americans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI's Domestic Investigative Operational Guidelines went into effect in December of 2008 and detail the Bureau's procedures and standards for implementing the Attorney General's Guidelines on approved surveillance strategies.
In October 2006 after receiving an anonymous tip EFF filed a FOIA request for information related to the FBI's DCS-5000 or "Redwolf " surveillance system. The FOIA request sought information related to the use and abuse of the FBI's DCS-5000 surveillance capabilities.
In July 2009 EFF requested copies of all complaints to DHS's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). The request included complaints of erroneous watch list mismatches and travel difficulties caused by DHS programs such as the http://www.eff.org/foia/ats">Automated Targeting System US-VISIT and Secure Flight.
EFF filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security for information about a temporary agreement on the handling of air passenger data from flights between the European Union and the United States.
In this Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) seeks information about two electronic surveillance systems developed by the FBI: DCS-3000 and Red Hook.
On September 27 2010 the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN published a notice of proposed rulemaking setting forth new reporting requirements related to cross-border electronic transfer of funds. Shortly after the publication of the proposed rule EFF filed a FOIA request seeking documentation that would justify the agency’s law enforcement need for the regulations. We also sought information demonstrating that FinCEN had taken adequate data-security precautions for handling such a massive amount of sensitive information.
In July 2010 EFF filed a FOIA request with the Federal Communications Commission seeking records of meetings or discussions between FCC officials and representatives of telecommunications cable and Internet companies and organizations concerning potential net neutrality regulations.
Specifically EFF's request sought records concerning:
(1) potential legislation of broadband Internet regulation including but not limited to potential amendments to the Communications Act or Telecommunications Act; and
Federal law requires the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to http://www.uscourts.gov/library/wiretap.html">report each year on law enforcement wiretapping activities which gives the public a sense of how often the government intercepts phone calls emails and other communications. Unfortunately there's no similar public reporting for the government's use of pen registers and trap and trace devices which record "routing" information rather than contents of communications.
On January 17 2007 the Bush Administration announced that it had let the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) review the NSA's domestic spying program which was previously operated without any judicial authorization whatsoever. This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case seeks disclosure of the FISC's secret orders.
EFF has sued the Department of Justice (DOJ), demanding answers about illegal email and telephone call surveillance at the National Security Agency (NSA).
As the FBI is rushing to build a “bigger, faster and better” biometrics database, it’s also dragging its feet in releasing information related to the program’s impact on the American public. In response, EFF has filed a lawsuit to compel the FBI to produce records to satisfy three outstanding Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to shine light on the program and its face-recognition components.
EFF and the ACLU of Southern California each sent California Public Records Act requests to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department seeking documents about each agency's use of Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) systems—sophisticated cameras mounted on squad cars and street poles that read license plates and record the time, date, and location a particular car was encountered.
In 2007, a then-unknown service provider challenged the constitutionality of a government request for user information under the Protect America Act. The provider lost its challenge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and appealled the decision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, the appellate court charged with reviewing decisions of the lower surveillance court.
Part of the goal of the USA Freedom Act was to end secret law. Section 402 of USA Freedom requires the federal government to declassify and release all "significant" opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)—the federal court that reviews the legality of many of the government's national security surveillance programs. Nevertheless, over a year after USA Freedom's enactment, the government has not released, pursuant to the new law's requirements, a single FISC opinion authored before June 2015.