The wonderful Freedom of the Press Foundation is now suing the US Justice Department
for refusing to reveal its rules and procedures for spying on journalists. You can read the complaint here
. The key issue: what rules and oversight exist for the DOJ when it comes to spying on journalists. As you may recall, a few years ago, it came out that the DOJ had been using some fairly sneaky tricks to spy on journalists
, including falsely telling a court that reporter James Rosen was a "co-conspirator"
in order to get access to his emails and phone records. In response to a lot of criticism, the DOJ agreed to "revise" its rules
for when it snoops on journalists.
However, there was an important limitation on the "new" rules, as the NY Times noted at the time
There is no change to how the F.B.I. may obtain reporters’ calling records via “national security letters,” which are exempt from the regular guidelines. A Justice spokesman said the device is 'subject to an extensive oversight regime.'
Extensive oversight regime, eh? The Freedom of the Press Foundation sought to find out just what kind of extensive oversight there really was -- and came up against a brick wall
in the form of black redaction ink:
That's from the DOJ's Inspector General report, concerning a situation where the FBI had used an NSL to access a journalist's communications inappropriately. As the Freedom of the Press Foundation notes, elsewhere in that same report, it appears that the FBI is actually ignoring recommendations of the Inspector General concerning these situations, despite the "First Amendment interests implicated."
As the Foundation notes, the redactions here make the details entirely opaque, and the Inspector General's Office has made it clear that it disagreed with the redactions, saying that revealing the information behind that black ink "is important to the public's understanding of the FBI's compliance with NSL requirements." Given that the Foundation is now suing to find out those details. The lawsuit specifically requests that the DOJ reveal those documents in their entirety, which includes the "extensive regime, rules, guidelines, or infrastructure that oversees the
issuance of NSLs or exigent letters to obtain records regarding a member
of the media" as well as "the current procedures that FBI agents must undertake in advance of
issuing a NSL or exigent letter to obtain records regarding any member of
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the DOJ will reply, hysterically, that revealing this kind of information will put national security at risk and could reveal important law enforcement gathering techniques that will aid those out to harm us or some such crap. Perhaps they'll even toss in a request to dump the entire case for reasons of "national security." Just recognize that this is all busllshit. The request here is not for any details that are going to help any criminals get away with anything. All it is asking for is what process the FBI uses to make sure that it's not violating the First Amendment in spying on journalists. If that's something that needs to be kept secret, there can be only one reason: because the FBI is embarrassed by what it's doing in spying on journalists.