July 20, 2012 | By Trevor Timm

This Week in Transparency: Release of Records, Classification Reviews, and Court Relief

FAA Releases Thousands of Pages of Drone Records to EFF

In response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which has already uncovered the list of all entities licensed to fly domestic drones, last week, the FAA released the certificates of authorization and other records related to those authorizations for 18 state and federal agencies flying drones, totaling thousands of pages of newly uncovered records.

The newest batch of FAA documents mainly address safety issues with drone flights, but spur many unanswered questions about the privacy implications of drones. EFF continues to look through the documents and will report on them shortly.

Review of Classification System Yields Elimination of Over 400 Classification Guides

After a two-year review of the classification system ordered by President Obama, the Pentagon finally released a published report. The report reveals that the Department of Defense (DOD) eliminated 413 of its 2,070 classification guides. The guides are intended to provide classification instructions for programs and issue areas. The Navy, the department with the largest number of classification guides at 988, eliminated close to 250. Despite the elimination, there are still over 1,600 guides at the DOD that mandate when to classify and redact information. The elimination helps streamline classification, but the sheer number of guides provides further evidence for the argument that government processes encourage the routine overclassification of documents.

Drake's Attorneys Support Relief From Protective Order

Last week we reported on a government response to a motion filed by Thomas Drake's attorneys in which the government argued that an expert witness, J. William Leonard, Bush's former classification czar, must file a FOIA request in order to speak publicly about the contents of a now declassified email he viewed and spoke about while serving as an expert witness in the case. Leonard wants to be lifted from the order so that he can discuss the contents of the email as a classic example of overclassification. In their response to the government, Drake's attorneys argued that even if Leonard were to receive the document via a FOIA request, he must still be relieved from the court protective order to discuss the contents of the email. The lawyers also noted that the government has not only already declassified the email, but also admitted to having a public-ready version of the email. With both briefs filed, the decision is left up to the court and should be ruled on shortly.

Congressional Push to Look Into Cell Phone Requests

After it was revealed that law enforcement agencies demanded cell phone data, including text messages, caller location, and other information 1.3 million times from service providers, House Democrats are pushing for a hearing on whether consumer privacy is being adequately protected by law enforcement officials and wireless carriers. The letter (PDF) urges Republicans to hold a hearing and notes how phone companies profit off the demands because they charge law enforcement for each request. EFF has consistently warned about the potential abuse of such demands.


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