Court Slams FBI For Saying It's Okay For The Federal Government To Lie To A Court
from the who-watches-the-watchers? dept
A few months back, we pointed out how the EFF had discovered that the FBI was extremely arbitrary in how it redacted information on Freedom of Information Act requests. There are specific rules about what should be redacted and what should be allowed. However, the EFF received the same documents from separate requests, and found totally different sections redacted. Not only did this suggest how arbitrary the process was, it also allowed them to see some of what was redacted in the “other” document — and discover that it never should have been redacted.
Now, the EFF is pointing to a recent ruling that shows the FBI apparently feels it’s free to go much further than just arbitrary redacting. In a different case, a district court has slammed the FBI for both lying about what records it actually had in response to an FOIA request by pretending certain records did not exist (even though they did) and then redacting portions of the document, claiming that they were outside the scope of the request… when they were not. The court is clearly not pleased. It also did not buy the government’s silly claim that revealing that the FBI lied would be a threat to national security or that it’s fine for the federal government to simply lie to a court, in the name of “national security.”
After court ordered the FBI to submit full versions of the records in camera, along with a new declaration about the agency?s search, the FBI revealed for the first time that it had materially and fundamentally mislead the court in its earlier filings. The unaltered versions of the documents showed that the information the agency had withheld as ?outside the scope? was actually well within the scope of the plaintiffs? FOIA request. The government also admitted it had a large number of additional responsive documents that it hadn?t told the plaintiffs or the court about. Id. at 7-8.
If these revelations weren?t bad enough, the FBI also argued FOIA allows it to mislead the court where it believes revealing information would ?compromise national security.? Id. at 9. The FBI also argued, that ?its initial representations to the Court were not technically false? because although the information might have been ?factually? responsive to the plaintiffs? FOIA request, it was ?legally nonresponsive.? Id. at 9, n. 4 (emphasis added).
The court noted, this ?argument is indefensible,? id. at 9-10, and held, ?the FOIA does not permit the government to withhold responsive information from the court.?
It really does seem like our federal government tends to believe that there should be no oversight of it at all. It’s almost as if they feel that the basic principles of checks & balances within the government is a nuisance which it can ignore.