FBI complies with FOIA request with blacked-out pages

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Lookout

Blacked out FBI document (ACLU)
Blacked out FBI document (ACLU)

The FBI and the American Civil Liberties Union seem to have very different interpretations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

As surfaced by the website Arstechnica, the FBI recently complied with a request from the civil rights organization—sort of.

The ACLU had filed the FOIA request back in July. (It had first heard of the memos when they were mentioned publicly by an FBI official during a panel discussion at the University of San Francisco earlier in the year.) The request asked for two memos that outline how the FBI interprets the Supreme Court decision blocking law enforcement from using GPS to track a suspect’s car without a warrant.

As the ACLU reported, the organization has just received a response—almost all of it blacked out.

One memo apparently outlines GPS tracking on things other than cars, and the other how the FBI interprets the Supreme Court case on other forms of tech besides GPS. The documents can be seen here and here in PDF format, along with the ACLU's original FOIA request.

Writing on the ACLU website, staff attorney Catherine Crump noted, "The Justice Department’s unfortunate decision leaves Americans with no clear understanding of when we will be subjected to tracking—possibly for months at a time—or whether the government will first get a warrant."

Crump added that "this is yet another example of secret surveillance policies—like the Justice Department’s secret opinions about the Patriot Act’s Section 215—that simply should not exist in a democratic society. Privacy law needs to keep up with technology, but how can that happen if the government won’t even tell us what its policies are?

The ACLU says that it will next ask the courts to force the Department of Justice to release the memos without all the redactions.