EFF Fights for the Public's Right to Know: 2015 in Review
2015 was a busy year for transparency at EFF. We are currently litigating 10 different public records cases—the highest number of transparency cases EFF has had pending at one time in our 25 year history. The majority of the cases are in federal courts (in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.), although we have two cases pending in California state courts.
Here's a brief, year-end rundown of each case, including what we’re after, who we sued, and the status of the case.
FEDERAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT LAWSUITS
What we’re after: Records related to the FBI’s use of Rapid DNA analyzers—technology that allows non-scientists outside a lab to extract a DNA profile from a sample in less than 90 minutes—and their plans to integrate rapidly generated profiles into the FBI’s DNA databases.
Who we sued: FBI
Status of the case: After initially (and incorrectly) informing us that only a few records existed, the government agreed to go back and conduct another search for records responsive to our request. They are in the process of finalizing that search and plan to release the first batch of records before the end of 2015 and the second batch in early 2016.
What we’re after: Applications submitted by tech companies for the export of surveillance technology to countries around the world.
Who we sued: Department of Commerce
Status of the case: The case was recently remanded from the federal Court of Appeals back to the district court to decide whether a new law—passed after we filed our lawsuit—exempts the records from disclosure.
What we’re after: A single opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that dealt with the NSA’s attempted use of illegally collected communications through its upstream surveillance program.
Who we sued: The Department of Justice
Status of the case: The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment in October. We are currently considering our next steps, including the possibility of an appeal.
What we’re after: Records related to the U.S. Marshal Service’s use of small aircraft mounted with controversial cell-phone tracking systems known as “Dirtboxes.” Dirtboxes are an airborne IMSI catcher.
Who we sued: The Department of Justice, FBI, and the Marshal’s Service
Status of the case: All three agencies are processing and releasing documents responsive to our request.
What we’re after: Records related to the award-winning journalist Laura Poitras’ repeated detention and questioning as she crossed the U.S. border between 2006 and 2012.
Who we sued: Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Status of the case: The government has released some records and has indicated that it will continue searching for responsive documents until early next year.
What we’re after: Records related to the government’s development and use of a Vulnerabilities Equities Process—the internal government process that assesses when to disclose, and when to use, zero days.
Who we sued: National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Status of the case: The government released document describing its Vulnerabilities Equities Process to us in September. We’re currently fighting to get information redacted from the document released to the public.
What we’re after: Records related to “Hemisphere,” a collaboration between AT&T, the DEA, and other law enforcement officials, that allows law enforcement to access detailed phone records and conduct complicated analysis and datamining of those records.
Who we sued: The Department of Justice
Status of the case: The DEA has released all records it believes are responsive to our request but the records are significantly redacted. We will be challenging the redactions in cross motions for summary judgment in Spring 2016.
CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT LAWSUITS
What we’re after: Records related to California law enforcement’s use and coordination of the Hemisphere program.
Who we sued: The California Attorney General
Status of the case: The case has been stayed pending resolution of the federal case.
What we’re after: A week’s worth of data collected from automated license place readers (ALPRs) that are mounted on patrol cars and at fixed locations around the city and county of Los Angeles.
Who we sued: Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
Status of the case: The California Supreme Court agreed to hear last July, and we filed our opening brief in October 2015. The City and County’s responding briefs are due in January 2016. The court will schedule oral argument once briefing is completed, and we expect that to be some time in 2016.
This article is part of our Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2015. Like what you're reading? EFF is a member-supported nonprofit, powered by donations from individuals around the world. Join us today and defend free speech, privacy, and innovation.