Credit Where It's Due: DOJ Changes Its Tune On FISA Transparency

from the now-let's-see-what-happens dept

Earlier this week, I complained that the Department of Justice seemed to be stonewalling a Freedom of Information Act request I’d filed seeking copies of mandatory semi-annual reports to Congress on the National Security Agency’s compliance with the procedures and civil liberties safeguards of the FISA Amendments Act--which the House voted yesterday to reauthorize for another five years. After sitting on the request for two months (the statutory deadline is 20 business days), DOJ had finally replied with a letter claiming they could "neither confirm or deny the existence" of reports that were required by federal law. I thought this was a little ridiculous. Fortunately, there were officials at the Justice Department who thought so too.

Having appealed the denial of my request, I got an impressively prompt reply on Tuesday evening from the director of the Office of Information Policy at DOJ, assuring me that she recognized the agency's initial response had been "incorrect," and that a new one would be forthcoming immediately. By Wednesday morning, their stance had changed entirely: They had found the reports I sought, and were forwarding them to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for review to determine what would need to be redacted before release--with a request that ODNI seek to expedite its analysis to compensate for their own delay.

Now, to be sure, I'd rather have had this response a month ago, and the documents before the House vote, but at this point DOJ appears to be doing exactly what they're supposed to and making a good faith effort to facilitate the redaction and release of these important assessments. So it seemed appropriate to follow up on my initial blog post to acknowledge that--and in particular Office of Information Policy director Melanie Pustay, who straightforwardly acknowledged the error and acted quickly to correct it. We'll see soon enough whether a similar spirit of transparency reigns at ODNI.

Cross-posted from Cato-at-Liberty.



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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 3:57pm

    Get some, you internet freedom fighter you! I'm on the edge of my seat as you fight this important fight. Can't wait to see all the FUD that is surely yet to come. I'm already scared of my shadow. I'm sure you'll give me so much more to be scared of!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:00pm

      Re:

      What does this story have to do with your **AA masters? Are you just so used to trolling every Techdirt story that comes along that you no longer realize which stories are relevant to your masters and which ones aren't?

       

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        velox (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:43pm

        Re: Re:

        "What does this story have to do with your **AA masters? Are you just so used to trolling every Techdirt story that comes along that you no longer realize which stories are relevant to your masters and which ones aren't?"
        Actually the media industry has a focused interest in extending the surveillance state. The more powerful and capable government surveillance becomes, and the further legal precedence is extended, then the greater likelihood lawmakers will be persuaded in the future to allow the widespread application of that surveillance to enforcement of copyright law.
        Freedom and the constitution be damned.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 11:20pm

      Re:

      Your post is fully off-topic. This article isn't about you at all.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 3:58pm

    Of course, even though they will be sending you the reports, they can still neither confirm nor deny that the reports exist.

     

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:10pm

    Still

    A day late, and a dollar short... :-(

     

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    PlagueSD (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:19pm

    Here's what the report will contain...

    Thank you for your FOIA Request. Below you will find the information you requested in regards with FISA Amendments Act

    -------------------------------------

    [REDACTED]


    ------------------------------------ -


    Thank you for your request.


    DOJ

     

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    ShellMG, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:22pm

    I wonder if any words but "and", "the", and "it" will survive redaction. I respect Julian's work but those of us that work for or have spouses employed by governmental agencies know, honesty and clarity are scant resources when it comes to bureaucracy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:26pm

    This is nice and all, but as you pointed out in your original post, they were supposed to respond within 20 days.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:26pm

    Hey look a shiny thing ... its bright, its pointed at me, oh no!!! Its a viral internet blog post.

    I think government should acknowledge anything can go viral. Treat all FOIA requests as if they were about to go viral and just do the right thing. But we have a culture of secrecy in government based on wrong doing and fear of exposure. So everything gets classified.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 6:03pm

      Re:

      You really think so? You don't think perhaps someone looked at the request, and realized it should have been approved to start with?

      Do you honestly think everything happens because of the internet web thing, and not because people actually do their job from time to time?

      Are you really that full of yourself?

       

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    kenichi tanaka, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:40pm

    The DOJ didn't do this as a matter of 'good faith". They didn't want to process your FOIA request until after the House vote.

    This was all planned out.

     

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      velox (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 4:47pm

      Re:

      Concur

       

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      DCX2, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 6:34pm

      Re:

      I think if they were actually stonewalling, they would wait until after the Senate vote, because it arguably stands less of a chance of passing that chamber. I highly doubt anything that would be uncovered by the FOIA would have any effect on the chamber controlled by Republicans, who hold much more strictly to the party line than Democrats.

       

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      DataShade (profile), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 11:53pm

      Re:

      We'll know if you're right when we see is Ms. Pustay still has a job after the Senate hearings on their version, neh?

       

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    JustSomeGuy, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 6:01pm

    If you replace "incorrect" with "a steaming pile of horse excrement", their second response would be more accurate.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2012 @ 8:20pm

    I'm sorry Mike but "Obfuscation By Delay" is not transparency.

     

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    Justin Olbrantz (Quantam), Sep 13th, 2012 @ 8:45pm

    Stunning Transparency

    I must admit, I'm downright stunned at the level of transparency being shown here. I was pretty sure all along that the stonewalling had a purpose as already stated: to delay releasing the documents till after the FISA vote passed. But I never imagined they would be so transparent as to release the files IMMEDIATELY after the vote. The only plausible explanation I can come up with is that they're mocking you to your face, Julian. The timing is simply too coincidental (and too big of an admission of guilt) to be mere chance. This is a message: there's nothing you can do to them even when they make no attempt to hide their misdeeds.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 6:35am

      Re: Stunning Transparency

      They...they...they...

      If you've ever worked inside an organization bigger than...oh say...half a dozen people...you'd realize how quickly "they" turns into the "I" who was tasked the job.

      Acting like there aren't real individuals...humans...working in organizations like the DOJ doesn't make it so.

       

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        Justin Olbrantz (Quantam), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 8:57pm

        Re: Re: Stunning Transparency

        Yes... any human institution by definition is composed of humans. Were you merely stating the blindingly obvious, or did you have a point of some kind?

         

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