The Things You Learn When You Send A Freedom Of Information Act Request About What The Gov't Knows About You
from the evil-criminal-edition dept
I've been meaning to post this story for a little while, but am finally getting around to it. On a whim, a woman decided to send off some Freedom of Information Act requests to various government agencies to see if they had any information about her. She said she had basically forgotten about the whole thing... until, months later, the FBI sent her a giant package... containing a 436-page report on her that she had no idea existed. What she discovered was that, about a decade ago, the FBI had spent five days following her and some of her friends around, all because they were involved in planning and organizing a small local protest (she doesn't explain what the protest was about, other than to say it really wasn't that big of a deal). Either way, the FBI spent five days (a few days before, the day of and the day after the protest) following her and her friends and recording all of their activities. The actual report is incredibly mundane:
At times, the file details seem particularly ridiculous:
As she says, "As you can see, I pose a clear and present danger to society. I pick up other people's trash and put it in the proper bins." The entire file is apparently similarly pointless information about her activities. She sounds mildly embarrassed that she didn't spot the fact that she was being followed, but if you're not expecting that you're being followed -- and being followed by pros -- it's unlikely that you'd notice. The thing that's really amazing is that it makes you wonder just how much time and resources are being wasted here. I recognize that it's important for law enforcement to be on top of various activities, but it's hard not to wonder if this isn't overkill. She also notes that, for all of the time and effort put into following her around, they got a lot of the rather basic facts wrong:
I am repeatedly identified as a member of a different, more mainstream liberal activist group which I was not only not a part of, but actually fought with on countless occasions. To somehow not know that I detested this group of people was a colossal failure of intelligence-gathering. Hopefully the FBI has not gotten any better at figuring out who is a part of what, and that this has worked to the detriment of their surveillance of other activists. I am also repeatedly identified as being a part of campaigns that I was never involved with, or didn't even know about, including protests in other cities. Maybe the FBI assumes every protester-type attends all other activist meetings and protests, like we're just one big faceless monolith. "Oh, hey, you're into this topic? Well, then, you're probably into this topic, right? You're all pinkos to us."When you read stuff like this, and then think back to the various cases we've seen of the FBI manufacturing their own terrorist plots, it really makes you wonder if the money we're spending on law enforcement for these kinds of things is money well spent... or if the FBI really just has way too much time (and money) on their hands.
In taking a general survey of all area activists, the files keep trying to draw non-existant connections between the most mainstream groups/people and the most radical, as though one was a front for the other. There are a few flyers from local events that have nothing to do with our campaign, including one posted to advertise a lefty discussion group at the university library. The FBI mentions that activists may be planning "direct action" at their meetings, which the document's author clarifies means "illegal acts." "Direct action" was then, and I'd say now, a term used to talk about civil disobedience and intentional arrests. While such things are illegal actions, the tone and context in these FBI files makes it sound like protesters got together and planned how to fly airplanes into buildings or something.