EPIC v. DOJ (Inspector General Reports)
- Watchdog Report Shows Wiretap Powers Ineffective: The Justice Department's Inspector General has released the latest report to Congress on government surveillance. The report includes a review of the FBI's data collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was revised by the Freedom Act. According to the IG report, FBI agents "did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to the [Section 215] orders." Similar findings were made by the PCLOB and the Senate Judiciary Committee: section 215 has not prevented terrorist acts. The Second Circuit ruled last year that the NSA's telephone record collection program exceeded the legal authority of Section 2015. EPIC recently obtained nonpublic IG reports through a FOIA lawsuit. (Dec. 9, 2016)
- EPIC Sues for Release of Government Oversight Reports: EPIC has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice to obtain the agency’s secret watchdog reports. The mission of the Office of the Inspector General is “to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.” However, many of the reports are kept secret. Those reports, EPIC explained in the complaint, "are critical for the public to understand the measures taken to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the DOJ, and as a mechanism to hold the agency accountable.” EPIC previously obtained oversight reports on the CIA surveillance of muslims in New York, and CIA spying on Senate staff. (Jul. 5, 2016)
The Inspector General conducts investigations, evaluations, and audits for the Department of Justice. The results of these internal investigations offer an insight into the workings of the DOJ and allow the public to better understand how the Department functions and the measures being taken to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the office.
Ultimately, these Inspector General investigations help ensure the DOJ is being managed in an ethical and responsible manner, as well as, allow the public to be more confident in the operations of a taxpayer-funded entity.
IG reports are critical for the public to understand the measures taken to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the DOJ, and as a mechanism to hold the agency accountable. For example, in 2010, the OIG issued a report on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) use of “exigent letters” and other means to obtain telephone records from three unnamed phone companies.4 The 300-page report concluded that many of the FBI's practices “violated FBI guidelines, Department policy,” and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The OIG report established that “the FBI’s initial attempts at corrective action were seriously deficient, ill-conceived, and poorly executed,” and proposed recommendations for improvement. The OIG report led to increased public scrutiny of the FBI’s practices, including a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. These OIG investigations help to ensure that the DOJ is managed ethically and responsibly, and promotes public confidence in the operations of the federal agency.
However, not all Inspector General reports are made public. As a consequence, the public is deprived of the opportunity to be fully informed of the activities of a major federal agency.
EPIC’s Open Government project seeks to ensure that the public is fully informed about the activities of government. Many government activities that EPIC has investigated over the years have involved the DOJ and its component agencies. EPIC, therefore, has a significant interest in obtaining non-public reports from the OIG, whose mission is “to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in those programs.”
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 16-1402)
- Complaint (July 5, 2016)
- DOJ Motion to Extend Answer Due Date (Aug. 17, 2016)
- EPIC Opposition to Extension (Aug. 18, 2016)
- DOJ Answer (Sept. 8, 2016)
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Communications Law and Policy
Jerry Kang and Alan Butler