Transparency Project

Transparency Victories

EFF filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), demanding data on certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for the operation of unmanned aircraft, 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 also filed a follow up request with DOT for more detailed records in October of 2012. Additionally, EFF asked the Department of Homeland Security about how and why Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is using its predator drones on behalf of other law enforcement agencies.

We have plotted out all the information we've received about applications to fly domestic drones on our Map of Domestic Drone Authorizations. (Clicking this link will serve content from Google.)

Before the USA PATRIOT Act the FBI could only use so-called National Security Letters for securing the records of suspected terrorists or spies. But under PATRIOT the FBI can use them to get telephone Internet financial credit and other personal records about anybody without any court approval as long as it believes the information could be relevant to an authorized terrorism or espionage investigation.

From the moment PATRIOT was passed we said the NSL power was ripe for abuse and unconstitutional and in March 2007 the Department of Justice's inspector general released a report confirming extensive misuse of NSLs in a sample of four FBI field offices. An internal audit by the FBI confirmed that the problem was far more extensive than first thought.

In the wake of the inspector general's report EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking fundamental information about the FBI's abuse of power. On June 16 2007 a federal judge ordered the FBI to process 2 500 pages a month responsive to EFF's request. Here you will find key excerpts of the materials as well the full documents.

In 2007 the New York Times reported that the military was increasingly using NSLs to gather intelligence within the United States. In response EFF requested documents from the Pentagon to document its use of NSLs. In October 2007 the Department of Defense began producing documents responsive to EFF's request.

EFF working with the Samuelson Law Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California Berkeley School of Law (Samuelson Clinic) filed suit on December 1 2009 against a half-dozen government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations data-collection and surveillance.

In November 2006 the Department of Homeland Security revealed that for years it has assigned "risk assessments" to millions of travelers entering or leaving the country. The Automated Targeting System reviews data from seven large government databases plus the Passenger Name Record data from the airlines. Effectively if you travel internationally ATS creates an instant personal and detailed dossier on you that Customs and Border Protection officers use to decide whether you get to enter the country or will be subject to an enhanced (and potentially invasive) search. The government will retain the data for 15 years. In December 2006 EFF sued DHS to learn more about the invasive unprecedented data-mining system deployed on American travelers.

See EFF's full report for more information.

In July 2009 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.

The agencies were 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 was tasked with reviewing those reports summarizing them and forwarding to the president those that it believed described violations of the law.

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