Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

Must read FOI stories – 6/13/14

Every week I’ll be doing a round up of the freedom of information stories around the Web. If you have an FOI story you want to share, send me an email or tweet me.

  • A Circuit Court Judge will decide on whether text messages exchanged between government officials need to be released under FOIA in a lawsuit filed by PETA. The first defense the city of Norfolk, Virginia, offered was that its public employees don’t save their messages, then it said there was no way of retrieving them. Maybe their next excuse will be, “The dog ate ’em.”
  • FOI advocacy groups want to close loop holes in FOIA regulations. Advocates say “agencies lack penalties for withholding information, overuse exemptions provided within FOIA and deal inconsistently and unfairly toward requesters.”
  • After 10,000 requests, MuckRock files FOIA lawsuit against the CIA. You can read all about in their editorial, “Why we’re suing the CIA.”
  • FOIA request filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveals FBI’s Next Generation Identification facial recognition program will consist of a database of more than 52 million pictures. FBI Director says he doesn’t think the agency will spy on Americans with it. (Apparently he missed the memo from the NSA.)

David Schick is the summer 2014 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern for SPJ,  reporting and researching public records and FOI issues. Contact him at or interact on Twitter: @davidcschick


Freedom of Information Win: FBI releases National Security Letter templates

In another freedom of information request success, the Justice Department has released templates the FBI uses to generate National Security Letters. The FBI uses these letters to gain personal information on people they are investigating for national security matters, from entities such as internet service providers and financial and credit companies, according to The Wall Street Journal.  The FBI can request letters in security investigations without needing permission from a judge or grand jury.

The released templates are in response to an FOI request by the ACLU.  Some positive revelations from the templates include instructions for recipients who want to challenge the gag order implicit in each request for information.  Additionally, the templates show some information the FBI can request, including phone number, address, financial history, email and ‘to’ and ‘from’ email addresses.  However, the sections detailing what information companies can provide to comply with the request are heavily redacted, leaving some ambiguity as to what companies are providing.

Check out some of the templates:

NSL Template for Extensive Email or Internet Records

NSL Template for Financial Records

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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Muslim group hits FOIA request setback; Illinois rules for release of city council electronic messages

By Abby Henkel

Muslim group hits FOIA request setback: Politco reports that the group Muslim Advocates has filed a FOIA request seeking access to a 689-page FBI document that sets the rules agents are required to follow, including when tactics such as surveillance are allowed. The FBI had invited several civil rights and civil liberties groups to view and even take notes on certain chapters in the document in November 2008. Muslim Advocates was among these groups, and is now seeking to access the document again.

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that this limited showing by the FBI does not constitute putting the document in the public domain. However, the court is requiring the FBI to detail its reasons for withholding almost an entire chapter on undercover “undisclosed participation” in civic and religious groups.

Illinois rules for release of city council electronic messages: Illinois attorney general  has issued a legally binding ruling that electronic messages sent by city officials during council meetings are public information and must be released, according to the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. In a letter to the deputy city attorney defending the city’s decision to deny the request, the newspaper wrote, “it is very possible and likely that city council members received communications that aid in the elected officials’ formulation of opinions and that consequently affect their votes.”


Abby Henkel is SPJ’s communications coordinator and a 2011 graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs master’s program. Reach her at

FOI DAILY DOSE: FBI must confirm existence of death row docs, court orders redactions for previously open records

Court orders FBI to admit if it has docs requested by death row inmate

The FBI must disclose whether it has records requested by a death row inmate in Texas that could help exonerate him.

Lester Leroy Bower Jr., on death row for a quadruple homicide that occurred in Texas in 1983, alleges that three other men are the true killers, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

A U.S. appeals court ruled Tuesday that the FBI must admit whether it has the records requested by Bower under FOIA because the public’s right to know overrules the privacy interests of the men who may be linked to the murders.

The FBI’s initial reaction to the inmate’s 2008 FOIA requests was to issue a “Glomar” response, which doesn’t confirm or deny whether the records exist.

A Glomar response is allowed if disclosing the existence of a record would cause harm under a specific FOIA exemption. For example, in this case the FBI argued that it could use a Glomar response because to admit whether the records exist would cause an invasion of personal privacy that is unwarranted, as supported by FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C).

The court’s Tuesday decision doesn’t require the FBI to actually release the requested records, which may fall under other FOIA exemptions. But the FBI must disclose whether the agency does or does not have the documents.

Historically open records in Conn. must be redacted, court says

The Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled Tuesday that state agencies must redact addresses for certain officials in town assessor property logs – records that have previously been available to the public in their entirety.

The court extended a state FOIA exemption that calls for the redaction of certain public officials’ addresses to the property logs.

This court decision could also be applied to many other kinds of record logs that have historically been unredacted – a move that could hurt state transparency efforts, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The state Supreme Court reversed rulings by the state Freedom of Information Commission and a Connecticut trial court, which had ruled that town assessors’ “grand lists” of property records are required by law to be unredacted.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

FOI DAILY DOSE: FBI’s secret surveillance and a CIA lawsuit for post-9/11 files

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the U.S. Department of Justice clashed over the nondisclosure of a secret legal memo that justifies the FBI’s ability to access citizen phone records without the inclusion of any oversight or legal process.

EFF filed a FOIA lawsuit Thursday demanding release of the memo, according to an EFF press release.

Last year, a report from the DOJ Inspector General stated the FBI had found a new way to justify this telephone access that was corroborated by an opinion issued by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The report was redacted and failed to disclose the statutes that form the backbone of this legal justification and to explain the kinds of records to which the new exception applies.

The CIA is also facing a FOIA lawsuit.

Filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the lawsuit demands records about the CIA Inspector General’s report on the treatment of people detained outside the U.S. after Sept.11. It also requests information on an internal investigation into the Office of the Inspector General itself that was reported in 2007 by The New York Times.

The initial FOIA request was submitted on April 25, according to the lawsuit, but the CIA hasn’t disclosed the records or explained its reasoning for withholding any information.

The lawsuit cites articles about Osama bin Laden’s death and the revival of debates about the use of torture techniques as a key reason for requesting the immediate release of the requested documents.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

FOI Friday: FBI trying to obtain Internet activity records without judge approval

Happy FOI Friday, everyone!

FOI Links: The SEC’s surprise exemption

FOI Links: D.C. Housing Authority withheld documents from court case

FOI Links: Kennedy documents revealed and military phonies caught

FOI Links: A city’s blunder and the FBI’s record hold-up

It’s that time again…Friday time!


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