FBI Finally Completes FOIA Request 1,393 Days After It Was Filed; Withholds All 509 Responsive Pages

from the lol-'responsive' dept

Michael Morisy -- founder of FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock -- has been waiting since February of 2012 for the FBI to hand over information on its GPS tracking devices. Specifically, Morisy was looking for information on any devices it deactivated/recollected after the Supreme Court (US v. Jones) declared the warrantless, long-term tracking of individuals could amount to a Fourth Amendment violation.

The decision didn't explicitly state GPS tracking devices now needed to be accompanied by warrants, but it was enough that the FBI began shutting down its 3,000 devices. (It turned most of them back on a month later after securing the proper paperwork. Only 250 or so were permanently switched off. And, of course, the FBI grumbled about having to obtain warrants for devices it had already deployed, because the Fourth Amendment doesn't do anything but slow down law enforcement.)

With that in mind, Morisy asked for this:

Any lists or logs of sites or locations where the FBI has or had GPS units positioned for monitoring or surveillance purposes. If revealing the exact locations is exempt, please redact exempt information and release cities and states where devices are located.

If multiple years of logs are kept, pleas release all logs or lists created since 2005, focusing on the most recent or up to date logs or lists.

The pullback of the GPS Surveillance Program was acknowledged by FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann recently. If there is a list, tally or log of GPS devices being deactivated in the wake Supreme Court Ruling U.S. v. Jones, that list, tally or log may be substituted instead of searching for older records.
1,393 days later, the FBI has finally fulfilled his request in full. While it did spring some stuff loose in April, the remaining disputed documents were finally released 3 years, 9 months and 24 days after Morisy requested them.

And what was turned over to him in the final, long-delayed batch were two PDFs containing nothing more than a long list of pages the FBI isn't going to be releasing.





In total, ten printed pages containing lists of pages being withheld -- 509 pages in total the FBI has decided it doesn't have to release.

What was released earlier in the year is similarly useless. There's nothing about the GPS units. Almost everything contained in those documents pertains to GPS device training. And even in those, nearly nothing made its way past the FBI's redaction unit.

Still, there are a few hints as to what the FBI thought it had to do to mitigate Fourth Amendment concerns when deploying GPS tracking devices.

Follow this one simple [redacted] trick to avoid having your evidence thrown out!


[In hindsight, the "No supression" note was a bit too optimistic...]

Combine these two items for simple deployment, neither of which is a warrant.


This is the FOIA process. Anyone can play, but the government still holds the cards and deals from the bottom of the deck. Even the long-delayed, fully-withheld documents don't appear to be the information Morisy specifically asked for. One is titled "Manufacturer Materials." The other, "FBI Policy Section 2." Nothing returned in response to this request actually appears to be "responsive" in the traditional sense of the word. And it took the FBI most of four years to finally complete its (possibly purposeful) botching of Morisy's request.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 6:32pm

    When did the Bureau become radicalized? The Chinese probably hold the documents, if you have friends in Beijing.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 6:59pm

    Re:

    You joke, but since they are the primary group that has been radicalizing men in the US and creating IS supporters, they really need to be shut down and prosecuted for their criminal actions.

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

  3. icon
    TechDescartes (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 9:58pm

    FOIA Mad Libs

    Maybe it’s a game of Mad Libs and we are supposed to play along:
    Welcome to the wonderful world of [ noun ]. Now you can watch the activities of Joey Bag-o-Doughnuts [ time and location ]. All you need is an [ noun beginning with a vowel ] and a [ noun ] on Bag-o-Doughnuts’ car.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:00pm

    the leading terrorist organization in America. The votes are in and the winner is the FBI.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:20pm

    What's that word...?

    I forget, what is it you call a state system where government entities and public servants routinely hold themselves above fundamental laws of the land because there are no sanctions?

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

  6. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jan 9th, 2016 @ 5:17am

    List of the list

    Just for the fun of it, someone should FOIA Morisy's FOIA, and see if we can get back a "DELETED PAGE INFORMATION SHEET" listing these ten pages.

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

  7. icon
    PRMan (profile), Jan 9th, 2016 @ 8:28am

    Re: List of the list

    Sounds good. Where should they send them in 2021?

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

  8. identicon
    Citizen Freeman, Jan 9th, 2016 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Hoover sux

    You are correct!

    A criminal organization themselves refusing to obey laws. It took them 30 years to find that one of their own (John Walker) was selling info to the Chinese. Whose founder (Hoover sux) was a criminal nut case who took Mafia payoffs in the form of bets on fixed horse races.

    A sane move would be to disband and rebuild, including the building.

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

  9. identicon
    Rekrul, Jan 9th, 2016 @ 11:30am

    The FOIA should have been designed with an outside judge doing the deciding of what needs to be withheld.

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

  10. icon
    beltorak (profile), Jan 9th, 2016 @ 12:34pm

    Re: List of the list

    I believe it's already been decided that FOIA requests are themselves not subject to FOIA - otherwise you could request all the documents relating to the strategy notes of how they planned to foil your FOIA.

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

  11. icon
    GEMont (profile), Jan 9th, 2016 @ 1:08pm

    You really Can fool all of the people most of the time.

    I have the utmost faith that within a half century, Americans will finally come to realize that their government no longer works for them.... or perhaps it might be better stated that the American Public will realize that they are no longer the "We" represented by the term 'We The People'.

    Mind you this realization will likely come after their government and its corporate masters have destroyed the United States of America and established Ameri Co. Inc. on its corpse, but hey, nobody's perfect, especially peasants who worship wealth above all else.

    ---

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

  12. icon
    Atkray (profile), Jan 10th, 2016 @ 4:36pm

    Re:

    As I read this piece I though the same thing.

    I really hate to suggest an additional layer in government, but it seems like an independent FOIA clearing house with the power to indict officials who stall or over redact, is about the only way we will ever get these agencies to let go of our information.

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

  13. icon
    Whatever (profile), Jan 10th, 2016 @ 5:45pm

    I think there are two sides to the problem: Officials / departments who redact way too much, and people, individuals, and organizations who use the FOIA not to obtain specific information, but rather as the basis of fishing expeditions.

    The scale and scope of this guy's request is enormous. 10 years of almost anything that might be remotely responsive, all of which has to be reviewed, redacted as needed, and so on. It's an insane request, and totally a fishing expedition. He wasn't trying to prove a specific circumstance, he was just fishing hoping there might be some juicy comment he could use to open a can of legal worms.

    Abuse of the FOIA diminishes it's use for others. The 3 years wasted on this one could have been put to much better use responding to much more precise and refined queries.

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

  14. icon
    klaus (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:12am

    Enormous? We're talking about the meta-data of 3000 devices... That should fit on less than 100 sheets of A4.

    And if the FBI has any decent asset management system, it should be straightforward to run a report. There's no insanity or time-wasting as you describe. I don't see the issue.

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

  15. icon
    klaus (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:13am

    Reply fail - my above post was a response to "Whatever Jan 10th, 2016 @ 5:45pm"

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:19am

    Re:

    A list of all sites, or cities, or even just which states the devices are deployed in is hardly a fishing expedition.
    It's a request for information that should be routinely kept, and should be routinely available to someone, including and FOIA requester.
    It is absolutely routine to track the deployment location of assets.
    Every ambulance service in the country will track its individual vehicles, the equipment they're using, their maintenance and upgrade cycles. The same goes for every police car, government vehicle, freight truck, whatever in the country.
    All of those assets will be tracked by computer, and any one of those systems will have the capability to track miscellaneous equipment.
    So, yes, this should be a completely routine query. It is information that is certainly tracked by computer and should have taken seconds to generate.

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

  17. icon
    Whatever (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 2:07am

    Re: Re:

    It very much is fishing. 10 years of logs and other information related to a few thousand devices which may have been used more than once in a year.

    Depending on the type of logging (and no, it couldn't be only on computer, it would have to be on paper) might have a single device and a single installation per page. Or might only log a couple of dozen devices per page (say 24 lines, normal paper).

    Also, you have to remember that these devices may not have been released and tracked from a single office, but from regional offices all over the US. The potential also is that the log isn't kept as a consolidated list, but rather logged as evidence into individual investigations. That would require that each investigative physical file is pulled to obtain the real information.

    That said, asking for that much general information (rather than being more narrow and specific) leads to the problems that happened here. Too many "responsive documents", and a long period of time to obtain them assemble them, and review / redact them before release. If the request had been more narrow (say using a single district office, shorter period of time, etc) they likely would have gotten a much quicker response. They may still not have liked the documents, they may still have gotten a long exemption list, but they would have gotten the answer much faster.

    Wide scope requests without a specific case or situation in mind is fishing. They are looking for and hoping to find some sort of anomaly that they could use to embarrass the police (again).

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 3:10am

    Re:

    > The 3 years wasted on this one could have been put to
    > much better use responding to much more precise and refined queries.

    Yes, I agree, it only takes 1% of the time to return no information about a query with only 1% of the breadth.

    Do you actually believe that he would have gotten an informative response from a request asking about deployment of GPS trackers within a particular 1 year period in a particular state? Obviously, not, since if so, he would just need to repeat it 500 times to get the original information he wanted...

    Frankly, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't even have gotten information about how much money the FBI spent on the GPS trackers.

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

  19. icon
    Whatever (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 5:29am

    Re: Re:

    I would say that 1% of it likely would have lead to a dead end about 99% sooner. The concept of waiting three years to get next to nothing is silly. Asking such an wide question is just inviting them to take as long as they want.

    As for the cost, I think that a direct query "documents related to the payments made for GPS devices" might have given a quicker answer as well.Tossing it all in one big pile and hoping to get it all is pretty much a losing battle from the word go.

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

  20. icon
    GEMont (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:39pm

    Re:

    "I think there are two sides to the problem: Officials / departments who redact way too much, and people, individuals, and organizations who use the FOIA not to obtain specific information, but rather as the basis of fishing expeditions."

    Well, you see, this is America, and that means its the American Public's pond and them is the American Public's fishes, and if the American Public wants to go fishing blind, that is abso-fuckin'-lootely an activity the American Public should be allowed, expected and encouraged to do.

    Are you claiming that the information held by the government of the USA, belongs to the government of the USA and that the general population of American Citizens should not be allowed to see that information, in "Whatever" way they damn well feel like seeing that information??

    Do you believe that the public should also pay the government twice - huge salary plus exorbitant service charge - for that information, and that the government should be allowed to decide what is and is not suitable for public reading, even after its been shown repeatedly that these redactions do not protect national security, but are intended solely to protect criminal activity by government officials and employees and friends??

    I don't think most Americans would like the America you apparently prefer, although I will admit, your side is definitely winning.

    ---

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


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