FBI Refuses To Let Public Know How Its Drone Usage Affects Their Privacy

from the I've-got-plenty-of-nothing-and-nothing's-plenty-for-[REDACTED] dept

The FBI's production of privacy impact assessments (PIAs) lags far behind its deployment of privacy-impacting technology. From facial recognition software to Stingray devices to its drone usage, the FBI has always violated privacy first and assessed the damage later. In some cases, it hasn't bothered to assess the impact at all, despite repeated assurances to questioning lawmakers that the required report (and it is required) is (forever) nearing completion.

Its biometric database, which pulls in photos from all over the place for its facial recognition software to peruse, rolled out without the required PIA in 2012. Two years later, the FBI is still promising Eric Holder that the PIA will be completed literally any month now, even as it hopes to have the system fully operational by the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

It has supposedly cranked out a PIA for its drone use -- again lagging far behind its first reported deployments in "late 2006." But the public apparently isn't allowed to know how the agency's drone use impacts its privacy. Instead of placing the assessment on its website for public viewing (the default method), the FBI has stashed it behind every shady government entity's favorite FOIA exception: b(5).

Here's the entirety of the "responsive documents" returned to MuckRock.

As Shawn Musgrave reports, the FBI withheld EVERYTHING.
Federal law requires the FBI to assess surveillance technologies for potential privacy and/or civil liberties issues. These technology assessments are typically prepared for public posting and review. When it comes to drones, however, the FBI has redacted these privacy reviews in full…

Even the cover sheets have been withheld. The reviews are recognizable only from their titles as provided on the disc of responsive documents sent in May: “1218644-0 - Drone PIA - Drone PIA.PDF” and “1218644-0 - Drone PIA - Drone PIA-Drone PIA Section 2.PDF.”
While the DOJ does allow for redactions and the withholding of documents for certain reasons ("classified, sensitive otherwise protected information"), it also requires responding agencies to file a document stating their reasons for withholding PIAs. The FBI also withheld this document -- assuming it even exists.

If I was a betting man, I'd say it's going to take a lawsuit to get this assessment released. The government's track record on transparency is horrific, even without the specter of "terrorism" or "drugs" being cited in the FOIA refusal. Since the FBI deals with both, it's a given that it will fight to withhold information that concerns its surveillance programs' impact on the public from the same public whose privacy it's invading. A Privacy Impact Assessment should never be private. While some information will probably need to be redacted, the complete refusal to release this document should be taken as an insult by the public, and as a further indicator of the government's inherent untrustworthiness.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Violynne (profile), Aug 4th, 2014 @ 11:51am

    Of course the FBI refuses.

    Because it's affecting our privacy.

    It's not like any of this should be a surprise.

    Just bend over and get used to it (while the drone snaps a photo of it).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 12:10pm

    Tee hee...

    No one is doing anything... not even Hope and Change Obama.

    Boy that dood fooled a lot of people. Not that it was hard... all you need to do is say something they like and they are yours... what you do is hardly worth mattering.

    You can fool most of the people most of the time. Its hard to get people to see the truth of the Emperors new clothes because they would rather belong in foolishness than stand alone in truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    jilocasin, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 12:35pm

    To release a report of the privacy impact would impact your privacy

    It's simple. The reason the FBI is withholding the privacy impact report in its entirety is to safeguard your privacy.

    As other important government agents have previously remarked, so long as you don't know your privacy is being impacted, it isn't. Therefore if the FBI were to release _any_ part of the privacy impact report, you would _know_ just how badly the government is invading your privacy. Sure you might _suspect_ that the government is definitely not respecting your privacy, but that's not the same as _knowing_. This would lead to a greater privacy impact which would necessitate redoing the original privacy impact report to handle the increased impact on your privacy caused by the confirmation of your loss of privacy which only occurred upon release of the unredacted privacy impact report. This would inevitably lead to a redacted privacy report concerning the recently unredacted privacy report. If members of the public insisted on the release of an unredacted privacy impact report of the privacy impact of the recently unredacted, yet initially redacted, privacy impact report, this would lead to the generation of yet another privacy impact report to document the expected privacy impact of unredacting the previously redacted privacy impact report of unredacting the initial redacted privacy impact report of the FBI's drone program.

    As you can _clearly_ see (based on the aforementioned privacy impacts) the only way to minimize the privacy impact of any government program is _not_ to release a privacy impact report. If such a report _must_ be released, the course of action that maximizes the preservation of the public's privacy and minimizes the impact to that privacy is to completely redact any such release.

    Based on this perfectly straight forward and logical assessment of the situation, the FBI has only done what it had to do to best safeguard the privacy of the public.

    [*note the above does not reflect the options of this author and simply utilizes previous governmental responses to help shed light on the current FBI actions in this instance.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 1:04pm

    No complaint

    Why is anyone complaining? Look, there was no duplication fee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 1:53pm

    Re: No complaint

    Wowzer, is that deep.

    Other uses of CNTRL c and CNTRL v in immediate conjunction with each other have cost some people plenty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2014 @ 4:12pm

    I am sure the public will start finding out for themselves when they get targeted by missile drones, for just knowing someone from their past that turned into a terrorist. That whole guilt by association thing we have going on. Or maybe when the double tap effect goes into effect where they target first terrorists then the emergency first responders that show up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Aug 4th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    To be fair

    To be fair, I'm sure they plan to deliver all these reports sometime before the sun burns out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    1st Dread Pirate Roberts (profile), Aug 4th, 2014 @ 9:11pm

    Subject: Redacted - c1;

    Redacted - c1;

    Redacted - c1;

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    M. Rogers, Aug 5th, 2014 @ 3:47am

    Your privacy can't be impacted if you don't know how we've assessed any impacts on your privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Techdirt Reading List
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.