Posts Tagged ‘metadata’

FOI Daily Dose: NSA denies reporter’s FOIA request, open-data company to expand government data trove

NSA denies ProPublica reporter’s FOIA request for his own records

Jeff Larson of ProPublica filed a freedom of information request with the National Security Agency (NSA) asking for any personal data the agency collected about him, and his request was denied, according to ProPublica.

Larson filed the request on June 13, shortly after the first of the NSA’s mass surveillance systems was unveiled on June 6. He received a letter from the agency’s Chief FOIA Officer Pamela Phillips on June 24 neither confirming nor denying that the agency had his metadata and warning him any response could “allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods.”

In the letter (see here), Phillips cites section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify the NSA’s surveillance in the interest of national security and tells Larson granting his request would compromise classified information (the existence or non-existence of such metadata).

Ultimately, Larson concluded he would have to file a lawsuit if he actually wanted to see his records. While he was in touch with the NSA, he learned that their FOIA office has received more than 1,000 information requests since June 7 and hasn’t approved any Privacy Act requests for metadata, according to ProPublica.

“We do not search operational records on specific individuals,” Phillips told Larson.

Open-data company raises money to expand government data trove

An open-data cloud software company that plans to put the NSA’s data online and analyze it raised $18 million to share more government information with the general public, according to TechCrunch.

The Seattle-based Socrata consumerizes “untapped” government data by putting it into accessible and usable forms for citizens, developers and government employees. The funding came from OpenView Venture Partners, Morgenthaler Ventures and Frazier Technology Partners, and as part of the deal,  Scott Maxwell of OpenView will join Socrata’s board.

Along with hiring more staff, the company said it will use its new funds to expand its cloud infrastructure and develop portals and apps it calls “the next wave of open data and government performance innovations.” One of Socrata’s most recent apps called GovStat allows government agencies to set goals and measure their impact against data. GeekWire said many cities are already using Socrata for everything from compiling restaurant inspection data to election results and voter information.

TechCrunch asked Socrata about its plans for the NSA’s data, and Socrata said it has a platform “designed to help put the government online to see what it is doing with the data and what can be built from it.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: Gov report verifies Drake’s NSA claims, metadata ruling repealed

The government released a classified Pentagon report from 2004 that supports National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake’s claims of waste and abuse within the department.

Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in June after various news outlets published stories questioning the Justice Department’s decision to level felony charges against him. He was indicted after he leaked information on the NSA’s problems to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The report from the Defense Department Inspector General was prompted by complaints about NSA troubles from Drake and other employees, according to a Washington Post article.

It upholds Drake’s claim that the NSA was wasting money on a program called Trailblazer when another more effective program had already been developed.

As a result, Trailblazer sucked more than $1 billion out of the government budget and was abandoned in 2006 due to technical programs and its hefty cost.

The Project on Government Oversight obtained the classified report through a FOIA request and released it Wednesday (heavily redacted, of course).

Court repeals FOI metadata opinion

A New York federal district court repealed its February opinion that declared that metadata – any information for an electronic document that deals with the record’s management or history – must be included in public records.

The opinion was issued in the National Day Laborer Organizing Network v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency case, which was settled June 17.

It was the first federal court opinion addressing the issue of how FOIA rules apply to metadata, according to a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press article.

– 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: Drunken driving in Penn. and fingerprint data

FOIA’s public safety exemption is under scrutiny in Pennsylvania, where the state’s Commonwealth Court ordered the Office of Open Records on Tuesday to reexamine its choice to give a Harrisburg lawyer access to police training materials about drunken driving.

The open records office must conduct a hearing to decide whether disclosing police course materials from Harrisburg Area Community College could endanger public safety.

The college’s open records officer, Patrick Early, granted lawyer Justin McShane access to DUI-related records in July 2009. They excluded some records but included an affidavit explaining the reasoning for withholding the information.

However, the open records office said the explanation didn’t show how the training information could risk public safety or undermine police efforts to combat drunken driving.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security faces opposition as plaintiffs in a lawsuit accuse DHS of trying to hide information about an immigrant fingerprinting program by failing to disclose email trails despite court orders to do so.

The program, known as Secure Communities, allows officials to compare department database information to the digital fingerprints of those booked by local law enforcement agencies.

The most dangerous individuals, such as those convicted of murder, can then be deported.

Critics argue that it targets innocent people who have minor or dismissed charges as well as hardened criminals. Due to a FOIA request, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released many electronic files for statistics, emails and other information.

The agency is attempting to block a court ruling that ICE must provide the file formatting information, recipient trail and labeling data. But the plaintiffs – including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – said the metadata is key information that should not be stripped from the files.

— 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).


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