Trials and Litigation

Judge to FBI: Release Spying Records

According to a party, a federal judge in a FOIA case today ordered the FBI to release on an expedited basis records of the agency’s domestic spying on Americans under a controversial National Security Letters program that allows warrantless surveillance.

“The reports we’ve seen so far about NSL abuse are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Marcia Hofmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an EFF press release posted on the group’s Web site. “FBI officials told the Washington Post that there have likely been several thousand total instances of misuse. Americans deserve answers about this scandal and how the FBI has abused its power to spy on ordinary citizens.”

She is apparently referring to a page one story in the Washington Post this week. It says the FBI’s own audit showed that agents often overstepped their authority to seek information under a sweeping NSL program implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The EFF sued the Justice Department in April, contending that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not properly responded to a Freedom of Information Act request in March for access to records concerning the NSL program. Some 2,500 pages of documents are to be produced by July 5, followed by another 2.500 pages every 30 days thereafter under the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia order (PDF), which is provided on EFF’s Web site.

According to the order, the FBI does not expect to be able to complete its search for some 100,000 records on the NSL program until August, even though 10 employees are working full-time on the project. In the order, Judge John D. Bates required documents to be produced on a rolling basis, more quickly than the FBI had wanted and more slowly than EFF had sought.

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