EPIC Receives A Settlement For Legal Fees From The NSA In Its FOIA Lawsuit Targeting Presidential Cybersecurity Directives
from the a-small-but-useful-win dept
Some semi-good news to report here. EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has received a settlement from the NSA in its long-running lawsuit (dating back to late 2012) against the agency for its withholding of documents related Presidential Directive 54, a national security directive on cybersecurity.
It’s a partial victory, but there’s still more at stake, as EPIC’s post points out.
EPIC received some of the documents as a result of the lawsuit, “substantially prevailing” under the FOIA, and prompting the NSA to make a settlement offer to EPIC. As a consequence, EPIC will receive attorneys fees from the NSA. EPIC is simultaneously appealing the lower court’s determination that NSPD-54 is not an “agency record” subject to the FOIA. It was the first time a federal court has ruled that a Presidential Directive is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The problem with “first times” is that they almost inevitably lead to more incidents. If this decision is upheld, the government will now have one more way to dodge FOIA requests on secret directives.
On the plus side, EPIC will be receiving $3,500 in attorneys’ fees from the NSA, but as it notes, the agency is still withholding documents thanks to the favorable lower court ruling. The documents EPIC has received so far are embedded below, and as the agency seems to prefer, they are unsearchable images, rather than scans. This allows the government to appear transparent while still hampering attempts to cross reference existing documents or other versions of the same document. (The government has been known to redact something on one FOIA response while leaving it unredacted on others — hence its hesitance to release documents to “serial” requesters.)
The reimbursement of legal fees is helpful, considering EPIC’s court battle is far from over (and that’s just for the lawsuit involving this particular secret Presidential Directive). It’s great we have a Freedom of Information law, but far too often, it takes an actual court decision to actually free the requested information.